Randall Stephenson, the chief executive officer of AT&T, wrote in a company-wide letter to staff on Friday that the telecom giant made “a serious misjudgment” in its decision to hire President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen as a consultant last year.
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“Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson wrote. “There is no other way to say it -- AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”
The letter said that while the deal with Cohen was “done according to the law” and was “entirely legitimate,” the association with Cohen was “a serious misjudgment.”
Stephenson noted in the letter that a senior vice president of the company’s internal government affairs group will be retiring in the wake of the Cohen revelations. The group will now report directly to the firm’s top in-house lawyer.
“In this instance our Washington, D.C. team’s vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that,” Stephenson wrote.
Trump didn't directly address AT&T's payment to Cohen, but the president did tweet late Friday that his administration has been opposed to AT&T's merger with Time Warner in an apparent defense of the company receiving any preferential treatment.
Why doesn’t the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration’s Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a currently ongoing Trial. Such a disgrace in reporting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2018
Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday that "the president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted."
Giuliani's specific reference to the president denying the merger is in contrast to comments from last November when the Department of Justice's Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Makan Delrahim told ABC News, “I have never been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Saturday clarified the comment, telling ABC News, "The Department of Justice denied the merger."
The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing internal company documents, that Cohen’s deal with AT&T included providing advice about the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner. The Justice Department filed suit last year seeking to block the deal, and a judge is expected to rule on the matter in June.
AT&T’s agreement with Cohen first came to light on Tuesday after Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, released a seven-page document that contained purported details of the banking transactions of a Delaware-shell company called Essential Consultants, LLC created by Cohen in October 2016.
The Essential Consultants bank account receiving the corporate payments is allegedly the same one Cohen used to send $130,000 to Daniels -- who has alleged that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 -- to complete a non-disclosure agreement shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied her allegations.
Avenatti has declined to reveal his sources for the information he released, several companies have now publicly confirmed their consulting deals with Cohen.