On Friday, the CEO of AT&T, Randall L. Stephenson said that the company had committed a “big mistake” by hiring President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to advise on the telecommunications giant’s deal to buy Time Warner.
Mr. Stephenson wrote in a memo to employees that: “Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” Mr. Stephenson wrote in a memo to employees. There is no other way to say it — AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”
The note of Stephenson was followed by the revelation of the fact that the company had paid Mr. Cohen $600,000 to advise on the $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner and other regulatory matters.
Mr. Stephenson also said in the memo that the company’s head of lobbying and external affairs, Bob Quinn, 57, would be retiring soon.
The Federal prosecutors are investigating Mr. Cohen’s business dealings, including a $130,000 payment he made to the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, as part of a deal to buy her silence about an affair she says she had with Mr. Trump.
However, the president has denied the Ms. Clifford’s claims.
The payment to Ms. Clifford was the first known activity involving Essentials Consulting, a so-called shell company incorporated in Delaware by Mr. Cohen. It was through Essentials Consulting that AT&T retained Mr. Cohen.
The disclosure of AT&T’s ties to Mr. Cohen comes a critical moment for the company, which is defending its merger with Time Warner in federal court against the Justice Department’s efforts to block the deal.
Mr. Stephenson insisted in his memo that “everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate” and that Mr. Cohen did not do any lobbying on behalf of AT&T. Nonetheless, Mr. Stephenson also added that retaining Mr. Cohen “was a serious misjudgment.”
He also said that “In this instance, our Washington D.C. team’s vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that.”
Time Warner was not aware of AT&T’s contract with Mr. Cohen, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. Within Time Warner this week, officials were surprised to learn about the contract with Essentials Consulting.
The company’s vast lobbying team, which includes more than 100 people, and public policy staff will now report to AT&T’s general counsel, David McAtee.
On Friday, a fact sheet released in which AT&T has said that Mr. Cohen approached employees in the company’s Washington office shortly after the election. He promised to provide advice on who the “key players” would be in Mr. Trump’s administration and “their priorities, and how they think”
The company also said in the fact sheet that it had been contacted late last year about Mr. Cohen by the office of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and other matters, and had “cooperated fully” with the inquiries.
AT&T noted in the fact sheet that Mr. Cohen was among “several consultants” the company hired as Mr. Trump was assuming the presidency.
However, it did not identify the others.