Michael Thielen / Flickr Michael Cohen says he x27 ll...
Michael Thielen / Flickr

Internal documents obtained by the Washington Post show AT&T wanted some very specific “insights” from Michael Cohen when it inked a deal to pay the hush-money fixer $600,000 for all his telecommunications expertise. In particular, company executives wanted to consult with Cohen on a merger with Time Warner opposed by Donald Trump, issues being considered by the Federal Communications Commission, and tax reform. The Post writes:

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

Trump had voiced opposition to the merger during the presidential campaign, and his administration ultimately opposed the AT&T effort. […]

A “scope of work” describing Cohen’s contract in an internal AT&T document shows that he was hired to “focus on specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner.”

He was also directed to “creatively address political and communications issues” facing the company and advise the company on matters before the Federal Communications Commission.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad: tax reform was a slam dunk, the FCC did repeal Net Neutrality (now officially due to expire next month), but they lost the merger bid (surely Trump’s hate for Time Warner-owned CNN didn’t help much).

But former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti poses a good question: Since AT&T and other major corporations clearly hired Cohen for access to the administration (unseemly but not necessarily illegal), why did they pretend they *weren’t* hiring him as a lobbyist?

Few experts seem to think Cohen violated any laws by not registering as a lobbyist, so why pretend he didn’t lobby administration officials on occasion? Is it just the optics of a brazen pay-to-play maneuver or perhaps of paying someone with zero expertise in your industry gobs of money? Or is there more here than meets the eye?

Since special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly questioned officials at both AT&T and the pharmaceutical giant Novartis, we will likely get the answer to that question one day.

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