American Oversight today demanded that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disclose details of a February 2017 meeting between FCC Chair Ajit Pai and an AT&T executive linked to President Trump’s private lawyer Michael Cohen.
“A private dinner between Chairman Pai and an AT&T executive who hired Michael Cohen to influence the president doesn’t reflect well on the impartiality of the FCC,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Pai should disclose exactly what was discussed at the dinner and who organized the meeting. Did Michael Cohen set up a dinner where AT&T executives tried to sway a member of the president’s administration on policy that affects the company? We can’t know for sure until Pai tells the whole story. The FCC has some serious explaining to do.”
According to recent news reports, AT&T paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Essential Consultants, a shell company used by President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen’s contract with AT&T specified he would advise on AT&T’s merger with Time Warner. Trump has voiced strong opposition to the $85 billion deal, and in November the Department of Justice sued to prevent the merger. The deal is currently before a federal judge.
Pai, who runs the federal agency tasked with regulating telecommunications companies, met privately with AT&T executives a month after AT&T hired Cohen’s company. On February 27, 2017, Pai had a private dinner with AT&T executives John Stankey and Bob Quinn in Barcelona. The dinner was recorded in Pai’s calendar, which American Oversight obtained through a FOIA request last year.
Stankey and Quinn have both been involved in AT&T’s attempt to buy Time Warner. Stankey has been tapped to lead Time Warner businesses if the merger takes place. Quinn, who resigned from AT&T today, was the company’s top lobbyist and oversaw AT&T’s contract with Cohen’s company.
On Friday, American Oversight filed three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FCC seeking records that would shine a light on Pai, Stankey, and Quinn’s dinner in Barcelona. Specifically, the requests target FCC staff communications related to the dinner and the AT&T and Cisco reception Pai attended, any materials prepared for Pai’s trip to Barcelona, and any communications between Pai or other FCC staff and individuals related to the dinner, including Quinn, Stankey, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Michael Cohen, and Essential Consultants. American Oversight sent an additional set of FOIAs to 13 federal agencies seeking any communications with Cohen or former Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski or their associates.
Earlier this month, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act in response to a complaint from American Oversight. The watchdog called on OSC to investigate after O’Rielly advocated for Donald Trump’s reelection during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.