Cohen’s AT&T Cash Stirs Trouble for Justice Dep’t

MANHATTAN (CN) – When allegations broke this week that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in suspicious payments, the half a million from a Russian oligarch took top billing. Consulting work Cohen did last year for the telecommunications giant AT&T meanwhile has drawn questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congress.

Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult film star whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, released the allegations and accused Cohen of “likely” bank fraud Tuesday after an investigation of Cohen’s accounts at First Republic and other banks. Daniels claims Cohen paid her $130,000 in hush money after she had an affair with Trump.

By Wednesday Cohen’s attorneys had fired back at Avenatti, saying in a letter to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood that the report was “a toxic mix of disinformation” and claiming he had no right to publicize sensitive bank information.

AT&T confirmed at least part of the letter Tuesday, though, when it said it contracted with Cohen shortly after Trump’s inauguration. The company kept him through December 2017, paying $200,000 to Cohen’s shell company Essential Consultants LLC for “insights into understanding the new administration.”

AT&T said Cohen did no legal or lobbying work for them, but it’s not clear what Trump’s lawyer actually did do in exchange for the cash, or exactly what AT&T wanted to get out of the deal. The company provided no comment Thursday beyond its statement. Cohen’s attorney Todd Harrison also declined to comment.

A contract through December would mean the company was working with Cohen even after the Department of Justice sued to block its merger with Time Warner in November, citing violations of antitrust law. Trump opposed that deal immediately.

Last week, as the trial concluded 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.

Expressing concern over the timing of AT&T’s payments to Cohen, two Democrats in Congress sent a letter Wednesday to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.

Democrats Amy Klobuchar and David Cicilline, who are ranking members of antitrust subcommittees in the Senate and House, respectively, urged the division to disclose any information it might have about “payments made by AT&T that may have influenced the Administration, White House, or transition regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction.” They also asked the division to oppose any attempt by the White House to interfere in the investigation.

“These payments reportedly continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal, suggesting that the payments may have been an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation,” a statement on Klobuchar’s website states. Spokespeople for Klobuchar and Cicilline did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.

Avenatti’s bombshell 7-page report details a total of $4.4 million in “suspicious” transactions to Essential Consultants. That total includes roughly $500,000 that Avenatti says came from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

In addition to the AT&T payments, Avenatti also itemizes other “possible fraudulent and illegal financial transactions” involving Morgan Stanley, City National Bank and Standard Chartered Bank.

Other payments Avenatti deemed “suspicious” came from Korea Aerospace Industries, and disgraced Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy.

Avenatti did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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