AT&T top lobbyist Bob Quinn is retiring over a "big mistake" of hiring President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, the wireless carrier's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson wrote in an internal memo sent to employees earlier today, Reuters reports. AT&T kept Mr. Cohen on a retainer contract of $50,000 per month, having paid him $600,000 in total, with their relationship ending last December. The company hired him to gain insights into dealing with the Trump administration around the time the 45th U.S. President was sworn into the highest office in the country last year, according to its own statement on the matter.
While Mr. Stephenson wrote the move was entirely in accordance with the law, he still labeled it "a serious misjudgment" on the part of the second-largest wireless carrier in the country. AT&T only sought consulting services from Mr. Cohen and did not pay him to lobby on behalf of the company, the CEO revealed in response to allegations that the firm got involved in a pay-to-play scheme and attempted to buy access to the White House so as to facilitate the process of having its $85.6 billion purchase of Time Warner approved. It's presently unclear why AT&T's chief lobbyist believed Mr. Cohen is qualified to advise the company on its dealings with the Trump administration outside of the fact that President Trump was — and still is — his personal client. The payments made by the telecom giant to Mr. Cohen went to the latter's shell company Essential Consultants, with their existence being revealed by Michael Avenatti, an attorney of adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) who alleges to have had an affair with the President, a notion that he repeatedly denied. Mr. Cohen admitted to arranging a $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford prior to the late 2016 presidential election after The Wall Street Journal reported on the matter this January.
AT&T never requested access to the President or anyone else in the Trump administration through Mr. Cohen, nor did the attorney offered to do so, Mr. Stephenson wrote in the memo, without clarifying what kind of work the lawyer did end up performing for the company in exchange for $600,000. AT&T's board of directors does not believe the CEO to be responsible for the hiring of Mr. Cohen and the bad publicity that followed, Reuters reports, citing a person close to the company. Whatever efforts AT&T made in an attempt to have its Time Warner tie-up approved failed, with the company presently being embroiled in a legal battle with the Department of Justice that sued to block the deal last year, citing competition concerns in the media industry. The trial between the two was recently concluded with final remarks from both sides and a first-instance judgment on the matter is expected in the coming weeks.
President Trump was critical of the merger during the 2016 election race, with industry watchers often speculating he's opposing it due to his heated relationship with CNN, a unit of Time Warner-owned Turner which he often refers to as "fake news." The DOJ previously denied any White House involvement in its decision to attempt blocking the consolidation attempt and is still requesting a divestment of either Turner or AT&T's DIRECTV unit in order to clear the deal. AT&T is dismissive of such concessions that it claims would significantly devalue its acquisition target.