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AT&T deal with Michael Cohen specified providing advice on Time Warner merger: Washington Post

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AT&T’s $600,000 deal with U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, specified that Cohen would advise the company on its $85 billion merger with Time Warner, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing company documents.

Trump expressed opposition to the merger during the campaign and his administration ultimately chose to fight it, with the Justice Department filing suit in November to block the agreement. The case has yet to be decided.

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The Justice Department wants AT&T to divest Time Warner’s DirecTV unit or Turner networks as a condition of approving the acquisition. AT&T has argued that divestitures would destroy some of the consumer value of the merger.

Michael Avenatti, an attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, revealed earlier this week that Cohen had received payments from a number of companies in 2017 and 2018, including AT&T, the Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd and Columbus Nova LLC.

Columbus Nova was listed in November 2017 as part of the Renova Group, a conglomerate controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 On Tuesday, Avenatti claimed that Cohen received $500,000 from billionaire Vekselberg in the months after the 2016 U.S. election. Reuters could not immediately verify the claim and it was not clear how Avenatti would have knowledge of any payment from Vekselberg to Cohen.
AT&T said on Tuesday that it had hired Essential Consultants, a company linked to Cohen, in early 2017 around the time of Trump’s inauguration, to advise it on working with the new administration.

On Wednesday, AT&T said it had cooperated fully with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe in November and December.

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 AT&T declined to comment on Thursday’s Post story, and Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In an email to employees dated May 9 and seen by Reuters on Thursday, AT&T said that in early 2017, “We 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, corporate tax reform and antitrust enforcement.”

The Washington Post reported that the internal documents it saw specified that Cohen would provide the company advice on its merger with Time Warner.

It reported that the documents showed the company turned to Cohen three days after Trump was elected, seeking his help on a wide range of issues pending before the federal government.

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It was unclear what insights Cohen, a longtime real estate attorney, would have been able to offer AT&T on a complicated telecommunications-entertainment merger, the Post reported.

Mueller probed secret payments to Trump’s lawyer
Following Trump’s election, corporations have paid Cohen at least $2.95 million through Essential Consultants, the Post reported, citing figures confirmed by the companies.

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Essential Consultants was the same firm Cohen used in October to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for an agreement not to disclose her alleged affair with Trump.

Novartis said this week that it had provided information about its dealings with Cohen to the special counsel.

Reporting by David Alexander and Diane Bartz; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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Mitch McConnell is packing the courts with rightwing extremists while everyone is distracted by Trump’s impeachment

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According to a report at the Daily Beast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been keeping his head down and staying out of the impeachment of Donald Trump as he works frantically to pack the courts with rightwing extremists -- many of whom will sit on the bench despite unqualified ratings.

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No let-up in French strikes as fresh turmoil hits weekend

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The most serious nationwide strike to hit France in years caused new weekend travel turmoil on Saturday, with unions warning the walkouts would last well into next week.

The challenge thrown to President Emmanuel Macron over his plans for radical pension reform has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets and key transport services brought to a standstill.

The strikes, which began on Thursday, have recalled the winter of 1995, when three weeks of huge stoppages forced a social policy U-turn by the then-government.

Unions have vowed a second series of mass demonstrations nationwide on Tuesday after big rallies on Thursday and there is expected to be little easing of the transport freezes over the coming days.

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PG&E agrees to $13.5 billion payout for deadly California fires

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California's Pacific Gas and Electric will pay $13.5 billion to settle lawsuits over its role in a series of wildfires that killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes, the utility giant said Friday.

Faulty PG&E powerlines were blamed for sparking last year's so-called Camp Fire in northern California -- the deadliest in the state's history -- that left 86 people dead.

Outdated facilities including vulnerable wooden poles and failure to deforest land surrounding high-voltage transmission lines were blamed for the inferno, prompting accusations the San Francisco-based firm had put profit before safety.

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