AT&T CEO Admits "Serious Misjudgment" in Hiring Michael Cohen

Randall Stephenson - November 20, 2017  -Getty -H 2018
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Randall Stephenson made the revelation in an employee memo.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said it was a "serious misjudgment" to hire Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen in an employee memo released Friday and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. 

AT&T was earlier revealed by Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), to have been among a group of corporate companies and entities that offered money to Cohen, the U.S. president's longtime personal attorney.

AT&T admitted to having paid $600,000 to Cohen via a contract with Essential Consultants, a shell company Cohen created to pay $130,000 to Daniels as part of a separate transaction. AT&T's business with Cohen came amid a major antitrust showdown with the Trump administration, as the phone giant has been seeking U.S. government approval for its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

The Department of Justice has contested the AT&T and Time Warner merger as a harm on competition.

AT&T earlier said Cohen's company "did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017." In the intermal memo, Stephenson said "everything we did was done according to the law."

AT&T's confidential relationship with Cohen would not violate federal lobbying laws if Cohen, who is not a registered lobbyist, did not seek to influence Trump on the company's behalf.

At the same time, hiring the U.S. president's personal lawyer for advice on how to deal with Trump has raised red flags, especially as Cohen has not had a formal role in Trump's administration. Stephenson appeared to concede as much when, in the memo, he added "our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment."

Stephenson partially laid the blame for Cohen's hire with AT&T's Washington, D.C. office where the "vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that."

Read the full memo below.

All AT&T employees worldwide

Team, Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged. There is no other way to say it – AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.

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 this instance, our Washington D.C. team's vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that.

Here is more information on this issue, if you're interested. For the foreseeable future, the External & Legislative Affairs (E&LA) group will report to our General Counsel David McAtee. Bob Quinn, Senior Executive Vice President - E&LA, will be retiring. David's number one priority is to ensure every one of the individuals and firms we use in the political arena are people who share our high standards and who we would be proud to have associated with AT&T.

To all of you who work tirelessly every day to serve customers and represent the brand proudly, thank you. My personal commitment to you is – we will do better.