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White House: AT&T's Cohen payment shows Trump can't be bought
The White House pushed back on concerns regarding newly-discovered payments to President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen from corporations looking to lobby the White House, arguing that the episode proves Trump will not cater to "special interests."
Cohen has been at the center of a legal storm for weeks since federal agents raided his office following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller.
This week, reports surfaced that corporate clients including AT&T and Novartis paid Cohen hundreds of thousands of dollars after the 2016 election after he promised access to the new administration.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Friday that the revelations prove that Trump can't be bought by companies looking to change his mind, pointing to the fact that the Justice Department came out against AT&T's merger with Time Warner.
"This further proves the president is not going to be influenced by special interests. This is actually the definition of 'draining the swamp,'" she said, directing other questions to the president's outside counsel.
"I think it's pretty clear the Department of Justice opposed the merger, so the president or his administration hasn't been influenced by any outside special interest. ... He's going to do what he finds to be in the best interest of Americans across the country," Sanders said.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that AT&T paid $600,000 to Cohen's consulting firm in part to advise on the merger. In an internal AT&T email obtained by The Hill, the company said it hired "several consultants 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, corporate tax reform and antitrust enforcement."
"There is no other way to say it - AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake," CEO Randall Stephenson wrote in a memo to his employees on Friday. "To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate. But the fact is, our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment."
In the same letter, Stephenson announced the departure of Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.
The payments were first disclosed in a public report by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Cohen and Trump. Cohen has admitted to paying Daniels a $130,000 settlement not to discuss her allegations she had an affair with Trump a decade ago.
Avanatti also first disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Cohen from Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. CNN reported this week that Mueller's team has interviewed Vekselberg in relation to those payments.
The payment to Daniels reportedly came from Essential Consultants LLC, the same company to which AT&T, Novartis and Vekselberg made their payments.