Cicilline, Klobuchar Express Deep Concerns About Reports That AT&T Made Payments to President’s Personal Lawyer, Urge DOJ to Oppose Attempts to Interfere with Antitrust Law Enforcement Actions

May 9, 2018

WASHINGTON - U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Members of the House and Senate Antitrust Subcommittees, sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division today expressing deep concerns regarding recent reports that AT&T made payments to a shell company established by the President’s personal lawyer, amounting to at least $200,000. According to those reports, AT&T made payments to Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., while the Antitrust Division was investigating its proposed acquisition of Time Warner. These payments reportedly continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal, suggesting that the payments may have been an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation. In the letter, the members urged the Department to oppose any attempt by the White House or any adviser to the President to interfere with antitrust law enforcement actions and to disclose any information that they may have concerning payments made by AT&T that may have influenced the Administration, White House, or transition regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction.

“This is not the first time that questions have arisen regarding potential interference by this Administration in antitrust law enforcement,” the members wrote. “In light of these reports, once again, we urge the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division to oppose any attempt by the White House or any adviser to the President to interfere with antitrust law enforcement actions. Political influence in antitrust law enforcement is unacceptable.”

The full text of the letter is embedded below.

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Dear Assistant Attorney General Delrahim:

As the Ranking Members of the Senate and House Antitrust Subcommittees, we write to express our deep concerns regarding recent reports that AT&T made payments to a shell company established by the President’s personal lawyer, amounting to at least $200,000. In light of these reports, once again, we urge the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division to oppose any attempt by the White House or any adviser to the President to interfere with antitrust law enforcement actions. We also urge you to disclose any information that you may have concerning payments made by AT&T that may have influenced the Administration, White House, or transition regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction.

According to recent news reports, AT&T made payments to Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., while the Antitrust Division was investigating its proposed acquisition of Time Warner. These payments reportedly continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal.  Although AT&T has stated that the payments were for “insights into understanding the new administration,” the amount and timing of the payments suggest that they may have been part of an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation.

This is not the first time that questions have arisen regarding potential interference by this Administration in antitrust law enforcement. We have previously raised serious concerns about potential attempts to exercise political influence in connection to pending mergers like Bayer AG’s acquisition of Monsanto Company and the AT&T/Time Warner acquisition.

Based on your previous statements, we believe that you are also committed to maintaining the independence of the antitrust enforcement agencies. We also acknowledge the Division’s vigorous prosecution in the litigation to block the AT&T/Time Warner transaction. Nevertheless, political influence in antitrust law enforcement is unacceptable. And the Administration has not provided details on AT&T’s reported payments to Essential Consultants L.L.C. or the President’s Inaugural Committee despite our repeated inquiries for information into whether any White House, Transition, or Administration officials may have attempted to exert influence over the AT&T and Time Warner transaction.

In light of these recent reports, we respectfully request that you provide responses to the following questions:

·         Do you have any knowledge of the payments that AT&T reportedly made that have been described in recent news reports, and if so, what is your understanding of the purpose for which those payments were made?

·         Do you have any knowledge of any additional payments that AT&T may have made in an effort to exert influence with any Administration official, White House official, transition official, or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction?

·         Are you aware of any effort by any transition official or any other adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) to exert influence with the Department of Justice regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction?

·         Has any employee of the White House or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) had any contact with any Department of Justice employee regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction?

·         Has any employee of the White House or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) had any contact with any Department of Justice employee regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction in connection with CNN? If so, please detail those interactions.

·         If these interactions occurred, did those interactions comply with existing Department or other Executive Branch policies?

·         Will you commit to notifying the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate and House Antitrust Subcommittees, should any such contacts occur?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

 

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