On Tuesday, AT&T acknowledged that it paid $200,000 to Essential Consultants, a shell company set up by Donald Trump longtime attorney, Michael Cohen.
The payments were first revealed in a document released by Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, Essential Consultants was also used to pay $130,000 in hush money to Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Shortly after Avenatti released his document, AT&T confirmed the payments.
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
In addition, Avenatti’s document revealed that Essential Consultants received payments from Columbus Nova — a company linked to a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg — as well as Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland.
But AT&T’s payment is a stunning development that is likely to create a thicket of legal problems for Cohen and Trump himself.
Essential Consultants is not a real company
AT&T tries to justify the payments as a legitimate consulting expense, saying that the firm provided “insights.” But Essential Consultants is not a real company. It was set up on October 17, 2016. According to financial records, the company exists as a “real estate consulting company that collects fees for investment consulting work.”
But Cohen immediately used it to make the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. The funding for that payment, Cohen had claimed, came from a mortgage on his house.
The shell company has no website, no known employees, and no public facing presence of any kind. It raises the question of how AT&T could have even possibly known about Essential Consultants.
Essential Consultants was used for the benefit of Donald Trump
We know that the impetus for the creation of Essential Consultants was the Stormy Daniels payment. That means a publicly traded company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a shell corporation that is known to make expenditures on behalf of Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani, who is now one of Trump’s attorneys, allowed for the possibility that Cohen paid off other women on Trump’s behalf.
AT&T made the payment while it was seeking approval for a merger
The $200,000 payment to Cohen was made while AT&T was seeking approval from Trump’s Justice Department to merge with Time-Warner. AT&T claims that Cohen did no lobbying or legal work for the company. But it provides little information about what services Cohen did provide for his large fee. It leaves the impression of a clandestine effort to influence the thinking of administration on the merger, which the Trump administration ended up opposing.
AT&T also had an interest in repealing net neutrality regulations, which the Trump administration did around the time their contract with Essential Consulting concluded.
The payment raises questions about how Cohen was reimbursed by Trump
Last week, Rudy Giuliani revealed for the first time that Trump had repaid Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment. He initially said that Trump had paid Cohen a retainer throughout 2017 to cover the Daniels payment and other expenses. Then, on Friday, he released a statement essentially retracting his previous statements.
Giuliani’s current position is that he has no knowledge of how Cohen was reimbursed and that these reimbursements are not relevant. Trump has hitherto not revealed how he reimbursed Cohen. The AT&T payment, and other monies flowing through this shell company, raise the possibility that Cohen was reimbursed by Trump or his associates directing money to Essential Consultants.