AT&T’s Payments to Trump Fixer Should Come as No Surprise

The telecom giant has long wielded influence in business, political, sports, and cultural realms.

AT&T’s headquarters is located in downtown Dallas.

Unlike Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca,” is anyone truly shocked that AT&T quietly paid to Michael Cohen, the fixer for Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to better “understand” the new president? Giant corporations have long been experts at determining which way society’s winds are blowing, shifting their positions to ride the wind, and then spending big bucks to ensure they get their way. Dallas’ telecom behemoth is no exception.

During the 2016 presidential race, for example, an AT&T employee told me that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had made, or joined in chuckling at, an anti-Trump jest during a company meeting. (He was hardly alone, as many were scoffing at the reality TV star’s chances back then.) But, once the Republican won the presidency, the anti-Trump rhetoric went out the window, and the corporation quickly and successfully aligned itself with the new administration on issues like the tax overhaul, scoring $20 billion in savings for itself in the process.

Of course, AT&T and their top executives have had lots of practice exerting themselves in multiple realms. For years, when the company ponied up to sponsor the prestigious Dallas Symphony Orchestra gala, it would arrange to have high-powered, well-connected, out-of-town politicos—like Greg Abbott and Joe Straus—parachute into Dallas to serve as the event’s “honorary chair” and network with local heavyweights.

As D CEO reported back in 2013, the No. 1 reason the Byron Nelson golf tournament forsook the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas for the brand-new Trinity Forest Golf Course in southern Dallas is because AT&T wanted it to. Similarly, pressure from the corporation is why the venerable Salesmanship Club of Dallas, which runs the Byron Nelson, recently began admitting women to its ranks. (It now boasts three.) And Stephenson, the national board chairman for the Boy Scouts organization, was said to be a prime force behind the Scouts’ move to start admitting openly gay participants as well as girls.

If money talks and big money talks loudest, it will be interesting to see how AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner fares, once the judge rules on the antitrust case next month. As for its payments last year to Michael Cohen’s Essential Consulting firm, AT&T says Essential “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.” It’s just too bad a little of AT&T’s largesse to Trump’s personal attorney couldn’t have gone toward something a little closer to home—like, say, finally fixing those annoying robocalls I get every night, or the company’s notorious customer-service problems. Right, Dave Lieber?


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  • DubiousBrother

    I wonder how much AT&T contributed to the Clinton Global Initiative before the Clinton Global Initiative was no longer necessary.

    • Mavdog

      Do you?
      I wonder how anyone could conflate a contribution to a registered 501(c)(3) organization with a person’s for-profit LLC.
      But then that is just me being rational.

      • OxbowIncedent

        Easy. Its the same concept. Its just that 501(c)3’s and PAC’s are just middle men. AT&T just cut them out this time. And I’m sure companies as big as AT&T gives millions and millions to both sides so they can peddle their influence no matter which side wins an election.

        • Mavdog

          “Its the same concept”

          No, not in the least.

          A registered 501(c)(3) organization is required to file financial reports that show the source of all monies it receives and where the outgoing money is sent. None of the money that flows out of the org may inure to any individual. A 501(c)(3) org is also prohibited from engaging in active political lobbying or working for or against a candidate seeking political office.

          A PAC is a different entity then a 501 which operates under its own set of regulations. AT&T has a connected PAC which it uses to advocate on issues it feels are important to its business.

          Neither of these 2 are similar to Cohen’s use of a shell LLC to collect payments which AT&T and others made.

          • DubiousBrother

            Well comrade, you are correct. The Clinton Foundation does have to file a form 990 each year with the IRS. Here is how the Clinton pay to play scheme has been unfolding:
            2012 – $51.5 million
            2013 – $144.4 million
            2014 – $172 million
            2015 – $108 million
            2016 – $62.9 million
            In 2016 they managed to pay out $2,772,510 in grants including $106,000 for Haiti relief. It took $37,360,480 in salaries and benefits to get that money out to the poor and needy. It seems like the Clinton Foundation was the lead organization for Haiti relief, weren’t they?
            No form filed for 2017 yet but the trend is not promising as there is no play side of the equation anymore.

            As far as my original question, AT&T was a small time player in the Clinton scheme with between $25,000 and $50,000 in “contributions.”
            I guess they didn’t think they would get the cell phone contract in Haiti.

            AT&T’s payment to a greedy, sleazy attorney makes no sense as President Trump, unlike the Clintons, does not need to leverage his presidency for financial gain and Cohen has no influence over President Trump.

            Speaking of sleazy attorneys, Stormy Daniel’s bff, Michael Avenatti thinks he is being clever by funding his political attack against President Trump with a go fund me account which is up over $600,000. I wonder who is pouring the $$ into that politically motivated account.

            Of course, I am the type that wants to see Stormy’s tax return to see how she reported the hush money.

          • Mavdog

            The Clinton Foundation paid almost 87% of its monies into programs, with only 9.5% spent on administrative expenses. You offer deceit by pointing to “grants” as a sleight of hand; the Foundation does not dole out money, it implements programs to aid people.

            “President Trump, unlike the Clintons, does not need to leverage his presidency for financial gain”. Does he? If the answer is no, then why is there continued abuse of office for financial gain?

            You are wrong about Daniels, there is a CrowdJustice fundraising initiative, and the donors are available for viewing. Almost $500,000 through small donations, people want to get to the bottom of how Trump violated campaign finance law in paying off Daniels.

            The most important point of your rant is your whining about the fabricated financial abuses by the Clinton Foundation (in error as shown) while you offer excuses for Trump and his “fixer” Cohen in their pay for play scheme. A big bag of hypocrisy on your part.

          • DubiousBrother

            The Clinton Foundation donations have dropped like a rock since Hillary left her SOS position and then lost the election. The pay for play scheme is done – can’t wait for the 2017 990.

            Trump was wealthy prior to the Presidency – can’t say that about the Clintons or the Obamas.

            You do remember Stormy’s short lived run for the Senate in Louisiana, don’t you? Too bad she lived in Florida at the time but she had a poignant campaign slogan “Screwing People Honestly.” Then she got arrested for domestic violence against her previous husband. Did she report the $130,000 on her tax return and won’t she have to report the legal expenses as income since she is the beneficiary of the legal services? And you do know that her attorney had a five year relationship with Rahm Emanuel and also worked for Joe Biden. I still want to know how the Clintons paid the $850,000 to Paula Jones, Billy’s rape victim, when they were broke.

            Finally, if you think my comments about Cohen can be construed as offering excuses you need to reread my statement. No hypocrisy here, they are all sleazy, greedy attorneys.

  • Dave Lieber


  • Mavdog

    You are right Glenn, the flow of money to people with the ability to influence political leaders has been ongoing for decades. We should not be shocked by the news that several large corporations, including AT&T, spent money in this manner.

    However, it is not typical that a large publicly traded business would give this amount of money to an individual who is not a registered lobbyist, nor has a track record that would indicate they are capable of achieving results, and to an empty shell LLC that has no real business it conducts.