AT&T CEO Laments Cohen Affiliation: ‘Big Mistake’

(CN) – “There is no other way to say it,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a companywide memo Friday, “AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”

The AT&T logo is positioned above one of its retail stores in New York on Oct. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Capping off with the announced retirement of AT&T’s chief lobbyist, Bob Quinn, the letter attributes its association with the president’s longtime personal attorney to a failure of in the “vetting process” of the company’s Washington, D.C., division.

General Counsel David McAtee will step in temporarily to fill Quinn’s role as senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.

Earlier this year as the Federal Communications Commission moved toward its eventual repeal of net neutrality, Quinn sparked concerns with a confusing company statement about prioritized content in which he said “concerns about paid prioritization” should not affect coveted technological advances like self-driving cars and remote surgery.

McAtee’s top priority, Stephenson said in the memo, will be to ensure that the company’s political partners in the future would be “people who share our high standards.”

The letter came on the heels of confirmation by AT&T Tuesday that it contracted with Cohen shortly after Trump’s inauguration for “insights into understanding the new administration.” The company kept Cohen through December 2017 and paid him through his shell company, Essential Consultants LLC.

“To be clear, everything we did was according to the law and entirely legitimate,” Stephenson wrote. “But the fact is, our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment.”

Though the company initially admitted to paying Cohen $200,000, Stephenson’s memo says they gave Cohen $50,000 per month, or $600,000 total, to “help us understand how the president and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company, including regulatory reform at the FCC, tax reform, and antitrust enforcement, specifically our Time Warner deal.”

He said AT&T hired Cohen after the lawyer approached them “during the post-election transition period” and offered his consulting services.

Cohen is now under criminal investigation in Manhattan, and Stephenson said the company cooperated fully with Special Counsel Robert Mueller when the investigator came calling in November and December of last year.

November is also when AT&T was hit with a federal antitrust complaint from the Justice Department to block its merger with Time Warner.

Trump opposed the deal immediately. Though Cohen was still contracted with AT&T at the time, the company says he never lobbied on its behalf.

When the trial concluded last week with closing arguments, Department of Justice lawyer Craig Conrath said the merger would change all of AT&T’s relationships with its competitors across the pay-TV industry. He also said it would have a “massive effect” on the pay-TV industry itself, enabling AT&T increased leverage and control over the market and passing the resultant costs on to consumers.

An attorney for Cohen did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Representatives for AT&T meanwhile declined to comment beyond the memo and an accompanying fact sheet.

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