AT&T's Michael Cohen payment underscores the importance of the Time Warner acquisition verdict

Key Points
  • AT&T paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen a $600,000 contract to gain insight into the president's regulatory thinking.
  • AT&T called the decision "a big mistake" on Friday.
  • A verdict in the Time Warner trial will be announced June 12.
Exactly what's at stake if the AT&T-Time Warner deal falls through
Exactly what's at stake if the AT&T-Time Warner deal falls through

There's a likely reason AT&T paid Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen $600,000: It wanted its deal for Time Warner to pass regulatory approval.

In hindsight, AT&T didn't spend its money well. Not only is Cohen under federal investigation for his business practices, but the Trump administration's Department of Justice sued to block the $85 billion acquisition.

"There is no other way to say it — AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake," the company said in a statement Friday.

AT&T hired Cohen after Trump's lawyer told the company he planned to leave the Trump Organization during "the post-election transition period," AT&T said in its memo to employees. AT&T then signed a one-year contract for $50,000 a month through 2017 for Cohen's consultancy services.

"Our contract with Cohen was expressly limited to providing consulting and advisory services, and it did not permit him to lobby on our behalf without first notifying us (which never occurred)," the company said. "We didn't ask him to set up any meeting for us with anyone in the Administration and he didn't offer to do so."

White House addresses AT&T payment to Michael Cohen
White House addresses AT&T payment to Michael Cohen

AT&T's future — and the future of AT&T's peers and competitors — depends on whether the megadeal goes through. AT&T challenged the government's decision in court, and a verdict in the trial, which has now ended, will be announced June 12.

Most antitrust experts initially expected AT&T's deal with Time Warner to be approved by a Trump administration. But during the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump said he would block the deal. Still, Department of Justice regulators are supposed to make decisions independently from the president.

"AT&T hired several consultants to help us understand how the President and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company, including regulatory reform at the FCC, tax reform, and antitrust enforcement, specifically our Time Warner deal," the company said in the memo.

Watch the video above to find out what's at stake as the acquisition hangs in the balance.