Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, was paid $600,000 by AT&T last year to help the company understand how the new administration might approach its proposed merger with Time Warner, the tax reform debate and other issues, according to internal documents.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, meanwhile, said it paid Cohen $1.2 million to help the company navigate the Trump administration's proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. And a Korean aerospace company pursuing a major defense contract confirmed that it had paid Cohen $150,000 in November for what the company said was legal advice on accounting standards.
While all three companies claimed to have hired Cohen to offer different types of expertise, overall, the work looked a lot like lobbying.
That is also how it reportedly looked to employees at Novartis. "Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him," one employee said in an interview with Stat News. "It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist."
Almost – but not quite. At the time they hired Cohen, soon after Trump's inauguration, both Novartis and AT&T already had scores of registered lobbyists in Washington who were working on the same issues that Cohen was hired to handle. These lobbyists, however, were required to disclose their work to the public under the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act.
In 2017 alone, 112 individual lobbyists from 34 different firms, including AT&T's in-house team, reported lobbying to advance the telecom giant's policy goals. Another 85 lobbyists representing 15 different firms disclosed that they had lobbied on behalf of Novartis.