Late on Tuesday, Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, released a dossier he put together on Michael Cohen. In the Cohen dossier, Avenatti lays out suspicious money transactions between Cohen and a few companies, including a Russian-connected one. The seven-page document lays out some interesting details that merit discussion.
Before we discuss what Cohen alleges, we need to acknowledge that the information Avenatti published are self-serving, that we don’t know the source of his information and we are only seeing one side of the argument. However, some of the details, such as the AT&T payments, have been confirmed by the news media.
According to Avenatti, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, received over $4 million via his Essential Consultant’s company. Cohen is an attorney and a businessman. Because of that we do not know what services he was paid for, legal or consulting.
According to Cohen, through his legal court filings stated that he had ten clients since 2017 in his legal practice. Seven of those, according to Cohen received “strategic advice and business consulting” and the last three, Elliott Broidy, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump received legal services. But the legal filing states that Cohen provided stated that Cohen “worked as a lawyer” for all ten clients.
Sean Hannity has stated that Cohen did not provide legal services, rather Cohen provided Hannity with “advice.” Hannity further argues that he never paid Cohen for legal services.
Regardless, Hannity is just a foot note in the whole debacle.
The question that readers should be asking themselves, are the alleged payments a “pay to play scheme” led by Michael Cohen for access to Donald Trump? Whether Trump knowingly participated in the scheme is immaterial, eventually we may know the facts. For now, the question is, was Michael Cohen being paid for access to Trump?
AT&T provides us a glimpse into this question.
We know that AT&T paid Cohen $200,000 in four equal payments.
We know this because Michael Avenatti detailed the payments made in 2017. AT&T confirmed the payments to CNBC’s Christina Wilkie.
Wilkie posted on Twitter the following:
“Full Stmt: ‘Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017’.”
Now we know that the AT&T payments were made to Cohen. The question is, what were the payments for?
AT&T’s statement states that the payments were not for “legal or lobbying work”. AT&T, however, states that the payments were for “insights into understanding” the Donald Trump administration.
The phrase “insights into understanding” can mean many things and it is obvious it was picked specifically as an innocuous phrase to allow AT&T legal wiggle room over the imbroglio.
But let’s look at one possible meaning, a pay to play scheme?
Besides normal business concerns over regulations and access to international markets, AT&T has two specific issues that the Trump administration controls, a merger and net neutrality.
The FCC recently can cancelled rules requiring internet providers, like AT&T, to provide equal access to all content on the internet. AT&T, like other telecoms, opposes net neutrality because it limits their ability to charge for access based on usage. Under net neutrality, telecoms were prohibited from using pricing tiers based on how a consumer uses access to the internet.
However, there is more. AT&T was trying to merge with Time Warner when the payments were made. The merger is subject to federal approval and it remains controversial with the DOJ demanding that AT&T divest itself of some services to ensure consumers are protected.
Direct access to Trump’s administration would surely allow AT&T the opportunity to lobby for its needs directly with the individual who can dictate the policy direction the U.S. government takes on these issues.
Is a $200,000 payment to Cohen sufficient?
According to an article posted by The Atlantic yesterday, the AT&T $200,000 payment to Cohen is more money then AT&T normally pays its lobbyists monthly. Remember that Michael Cohen is not a registered lobbyist.
Clearly, there are questions that need to be answered over the AT&T payments made to Cohen. It doesn’t matter whether Cohen had influence over Trump or whether Trump even knew about the influence peddling because the payments demonstrate the serious possibility that AT&T was paying-to-play for government access.
During the next few days many more questions will be raised, especially regarding Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. government over the poisoning of a Russian in England.
As these discussions continue, the payments made by AT&T should not be put on the backburner of the other controversies because it involves an American conglomerate that may have payed-to-play for its public policy agenda.