AT&T payments to Trump lawyer more than reported: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc paid Essential Consultants, a company set up by President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, more than the $200,000 that came to light late on Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

AT&T confirmed the $200,000 payment late on Tuesday, saying it hoped to gain “insights” into the new administration at a time when the telecommunications company sought approval for a major merger, among other issues.

Payments by AT&T, which could total as much as $600,000, were revealed by porn actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who also said a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and other corporations had paid Essential Consultants for certain services.

It is not clear how Avenatti knew about the payments. His client Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said Cohen paid her $130,000 in October 2016, a month before the election, to buy her silence about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. Trump has denied the affair.

Avenatti’s document said that AT&T paid Essential Consultants $50,000 in October, November and December of 2017, and another $50,000 in January of 2018 for a total of $200,000.

However, the contract was for a year, the source told Reuters, meaning AT&T likely paid more than $200,000 to Cohen’s company. A full year contract for $50,000 per month would total $600,000. The source declined to give a total for the payments made by AT&T to Cohen’s company.

Shares of AT&T were down slightly at $31.50 at 1:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

While most major American corporations have a range of issues on which they lobby, AT&T has more than most. At the time of the first payment to Cohen, it had a major merger, the purchase of Time Warner for $85 billion, under review by the Justice Department. The department sued in November to stop that deal.

AT&T is also fighting the Federal Trade Commission in court over allegations that the company throttled data for online consumers who used over a certain amount, even after the company’s data plan was advertised as “unlimited.”

Additionally, AT&T had fought net neutrality and supported tax reform.

AT&T hired Cohen when it was looking for a way to understand the new administration after seeing him on television doing interviews to advocate for Trump, the source said.

Cohen served as a long-time legal adviser to Trump in his real estate business, The Trump Corporation. During the presidential campaign, Cohen functioned as a spokesman and point-person on inquiries that related to the company in particular.

In previous interviews, Cohen described his role as a “fixer” for Trump who handled personal legal matters.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said at a press conference that the Judiciary Committee should review the payments AT&T and other companies made to Cohen.

Blumenthal said those payments “may well have been used to influence the president of the United States, using Michael Cohen and his shell company as a conduit.”

Reporting by Diane Bartz. Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Rigby and Dan Grebler