At the White House press briefing on Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended AT&T paying $600,000 to a shell company owned by President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Sanders claimed the payments actually show that the president isn’t beholden to special interests.
“I think this further proves that the president is not going to be influenced by special interests,” Sanders said. “This is actually the definition of draining the swamp, something the president talked about repeatedly during the campaign.”
Sanders was then pressed on how a major corporation paying Trump’s lawyer $600,000 for access constituted draining the swamp. “I think it’s pretty clear that the Department of Justice opposed the [AT&T and TimeWarner] merger,” she said. “Certainly the president has not been influenced by any, or his administration influenced by, any outside special interests.”
OMG — Sanders says payments AT&T made to Michael Cohen's shell company is actually "evidence that Trump is draining the swamp" because AT&T's merger hasn't been approved yet. #WarIsPeace pic.twitter.com/u1rLvUhdz9
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2018
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Cohen had received a series of payments into his shell company, Essential Consulting, LLC. Among those who had deposited money were Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who paid Cohen’s company $500,000, as well as drug company Novartis, and AT&T.
Later in the week, it was reported that the initial AT&T number was drastically lower than what was actually paid — AT&T gave Cohen $600,000 to advise the company on its proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner, something Trump had previously opposed.
But Cohen’s “lobbying” seemed to be nonexistent, especially since last November the Justice Department sued AT&T to block the bid, citing antitrust concerns. On Friday, AT&T’s chief executive, Randall L. Stephenson, even admitted such in a memo to employees.
“Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson said. “There is no other way to say it — AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”
But whether or not Cohen was successful in his brief, acrimonious stint as a “political consultant” ignores the issues of whether or not Cohen was attempting to peddle influence within the White House, as well as whether Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels potentially violated campaign finance laws.
Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, admitted to Fox News’ Sean Hannity (who is also a client of Michael Cohen) that the president repaid the $130,000 to Cohen, which directly contradicted statements from both Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“[Trump] did know about the general arrangement,” Giuliani said. “Michael would take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.”