Posted: 5:03 pm Wednesday, May 9th, 2018
By Jamie Dupree
The White House on Wednesday shed little light on why major companies like AT&T and Novartis decided to hire the President’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, early in the Trump Administration, shrugging off assertions that it was an indication of influence peddling by someone close to Mr. Trump.
“I haven’t heard the President express any specific concerns,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as she was asked at Wednesday’s briefing why major companies like AT&T and Novartis had hired the President’s private lawyer.
“I’m not going to get into somebody else’s qualifications,” Sanders added. “That’s a determination the individual companies have to make.”
The comments came as more details emerged about payments made to Cohen, through the company Essential Consultants.
“With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters,” the Swiss drug giant explained in a statement.
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) May 9, 2018
Statement from AT&T: “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.” https://t.co/2Rgwuh3Ul2
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) May 8, 2018
But after one meeting with Cohen – Novartis decided there was nothing Cohen could help with, though they kept paying Cohen $100,000 a month, for a total of $1.2 million in the one year contract.
Democrats said the companies should publicly explain what they were doing.
“This reeks of influence peddling,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX).
“Trump gives telecom companies more power and big pharma a pass on drug prices after they gave his lawyer piles of cash,” said Rep. Don Beyer.
Democrats also seized on AT&T’s admission of payments to Cohen, which came at a time that AT&T was looking for federal approval of a merger with Time Warner.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) May 9, 2018
The payments to Cohen had already caught the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, as the Novartis statement acknowledged that the company was contacted about the matter in November of last year.
It was a month ago today that FBI agents raided Cohen’s law office, hotel room and home, spurring an ongoing legal showdown over the evidence, and any possible attorney-client privilege issues linked to Cohen’s work for President Trump.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Cohen lashed out at Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, demanding to know how Avenatti had come into possession of information about payments by AT&T, Novartis, and other companies to Cohen.
“While Mr. Avenatti has published numerous incorrect statements regarding Mr. Cohen, he appears to be in possession of some information from Mr. Cohen’s actual bank records,” Cohen’s legal team told a federal judge in a document filed on Wednesday.
In that document, Cohen’s legal team acknowledges those bank records were among the items seized in the April 9 FBI raids, but they said a number of other items contained in a dossier released by Avenatti were incorrect.
“This document is concerning for a number of reasons, including the number of blatantly incorrect statements it contains,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote to federal judge Kimba Wood, detailing how financial actions by other people named “Michael Cohen” had been cited incorrectly by Avenatti.
Cohen’s lawyers noted that the Treasury Department started an investigation to find out how information about Cohen had been leaked to Avenatti, who continued to attack Cohen at every turn.
“They fail to address, let alone contradict, 99% of the statements in what we released,” Avenatti said on Twitter.