Sen. Ron Wyden asked Novartis's chief executive officer to explain what the Swiss drugmaker was hoping to achieve with its $1.2 million in payments to Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of President Donald Trump.
"If Cohen was representing the President as an attorney, which he has certainly argued was the case, then Cohen's obligations as a member of the bar would seemingly make this arrangement troubling", said Josh Rosenstein, a partner with the Washington firm Sandler Reiff and a specialist in lobbying compliance.
AT&T has said Cohen approached employees in the company's Washington office shortly after the election. The consulting fee went through a shell company Cohen also used to pay hush money to Daniels over her alleged affair with Trump.
Giuliani said Friday that Trump was "surprised" to learn that Cohen brokered deals with companies looking to gain his knowledge about the president.
AT&T was visited by the special investigator Robert Mueller's team six months ago to ask questions about Cohen, but it did not reveal its relationship until it was revealed for them by Daniels' attorney, Micheal Avenetti.More news: Scientist ends life at Swiss clinic listening to 'Ode to Joy'
Stephenson insisted in his memo that "everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate" and that Cohen did not do any lobbying on behalf of AT&T.
The AT&T-Time Warner deal, a so-called "vertical merger" among companies that do not compete, is the kind that has historically enjoyed typical regulatory approval. "AT&T has a lucrative business merger being blocked by Trump's Department of Justice". Both companies said they cooperated fully and consider the matters closed, but that hasn't stopped Avenatti. "There's a lot of men and women in Washington who are paid to their own advice". But Cohen's hiring has proven to be an embarrassment for AT&T.
A "scope of work" describing Cohen's contract in an internal AT&T document shows that he was hired to "focus on specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner".
Under federal rules, individuals must register as lobbyists if they spend 20 percent of their time working for a client on legislative and executive branch issues and if they have had contact with at least two government officials related to that client, according to Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission and an expert on lobbying law. "Quinn stepping down is not going to cripple AT&T", said Feld. He appears to have worked as Trump's personal lawyer while at the same time accepting tens of thousands of dollars from third parties to disclose information about his client.
AT&T said Mr. Cohen didn't arrange any meetings for the company with the president and that the contract ended after December 2017. The Department of Justice's opposition to the detail raised eyebrows because, while its position may be defensible on antitrust grounds, it doesn't fit with the rest of the Trump administration's laissez-faire ideology.
Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.