AT&T Stumbles As It Tries To Explain Why It Paid $200K To Cohen's Shady Shell Company
from the dysfunction-junction dept
Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti yesterday dropped a bit of a bombshell on DC in the form of this document (pdf), which alleges that Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen was engaged in far deeper, shadier financial shenanigans than had so far been reported. Numerous allegations are made in the document, including claims that Cohen may have violated banking laws in setting up and funneling money through a front company by the name of Essential Consultants, including payments made by Columbus Nova, a U.S.-based affiliate of a company controlled by a Russian millionaire, Victor Vekselberg.
But buried within the document also sits allegations that numerous companies were also paying into Cohen’s shell company, which had no employees and claimed to have been focused on real estate ventures. Korean Aerospace Industries, Novartis, and AT&T all managed to pay Cohen for ambiguous services, and all have been providing some comically murky explanations as to why they’d be dumping money into a shell company operated by the President’s arguably-shady fixer:
“Korean Aerospace Industries confirmed to The Washington Post that it paid $150,000 to Cohen?s company, but spokesman Oh Sung-keon said that it was not aware of its connection to Trump. The company said that it paid Cohen?s firm ?to inform reorganization of our internal accounting system.? The company is in contention for a multibillion joint U.S. contract with Lockheed Martin for jet trainers.”
Yeah that doesn’t sound suspect at all. The documents allege that AT&T also made four $50,000 payments to Cohen’s shell LLC from October 2017 to January of this year (though Reuters now says that those payments could have been as high as $600,000). A statement issued to the press by AT&T attempts to claim that the company was simply seeking “insights” into the administration, which by this point had been in office for nearly a year:
“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.”
It’s worth noting that while it was nice of AT&T to confirm the validity of many of the documents’ claims, the company’s rushed public statement not only got the timeframe of the payments wrong, but the name of the company wrong as well.
One of the theories du jour is that AT&T was trying to secure the repeal of net neutrality, the vote for which (December 14) occurred just as the payments were wrapping up. But given that the Trump FCC had already proven itself to be a mindless rubber stamp when it comes to catering to the telecom sector’s biggest companies, such additional payments likely weren’t necessary to ensure the vote went AT&T’s way.
Granted AT&T’s also been pressuring the Trump administration to “reform” NAFTA to make it easier on AT&T’s telecom ambitions in Mexico. AT&T was also trying to secure the administration’s blessing for its $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner. But given the Trump DOJ proceeded to sue to block that deal for anti-competitive reasons (or hey, just good old cronyism), if the payments were to grease the M&A skids AT&T certainly didn’t get their money’s worth.
The most likely reason is that AT&T, for some idiotic reason, thought paying a shady NYC fixer’s dubious front company would help curry general favor with the Trump administration. That’s certainly not out of character. AT&T is a company with pretty greasy track record, whether we’re talking about the time it turned a blind eye to drug dealers running a directory assistance scam on its own users, the time it was caught helping scammers rip off telecom systems for the hearing impaired, or that time it was caught making bills harder to understand just to help crammers rip off AT&T customers.
Unless there’s some legitimate reason for these payments (which seems hard to fathom), this looks like good old American graft exposed to the light. Still, there’s a lot of unsolved questions here, and while AT&T’s claim that it was just looking for “insight” might work with revolving door regulators like Ajit Pai, it isn’t likely to hold up under deeper federal scrutiny.