WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Saturday that the president did not intervene in the Justice Department's decision to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger — walking back earlier comments appearing to suggest that Trump did.
"I just want to be clear the president did not intervene," Giuliani told NBC News Saturday.
The former New York City mayor added that the president was out of the loop on Michael Cohen's consulting deal with AT&T. The telecom giant paid Cohen, who had served as Trump's personal lawyer until recently, $600,000 for help with “insights” into the president’s thinking.
“He said he had no knowledge at all of the payment to Cohen,” Giuliani said of the president.
Giuliani also said Saturday that discussions are on hold about a possible Trump interview with the Office of the Special Counsel in the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The president, he said, is instead focused on other major news, such as the return of three Americans held in North Korea and the announcement to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement.
“We were hoping to get it done next week,” Giuliani said.
If the president were to submit to an interview, he added that Trump’s team would request a delay until after the North Korea summit with Kim Jong Un.
"We think we have a couple of weeks to decide,” Giuliani added. “We can’t prepare him in the way that he deserves to be prepared before the summit.”
Looking ahead, Giuliani said they plan to “make a little fuss” next week about the length of investigation on the one year anniversary of Robert Mueller’s appointment, May 17.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Giuliani also said on Saturday that the president also told him that he had "no idea" of the influence Cohen claimed to have in his business contracts and that Cohen "certainly never lobbied" him.
He added that Trump "doesn’t like lobbying. He doesn’t need it.”
Since Trump took office, Cohen had been in contact with the president and Giuliani characterized their conversations as being “all about politics” and early on “maybe about the [Russia] investigation.”
Cohen is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors for alleged payments to two women who claim they had affairs with the president, including adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
“The president is concerned for him," Giuliani said. But lawyers for the president and Cohen agreed there should be no contact. “We don’t want them talking right now," he added.
After Daniels’ counsel, Michael Avenatti, claimed that he has evidence of additional consulting contracts involving Cohen, Giuliani said he's not aware of any other business relationships beyond those already made public. "I have no further knowledge," he added.
Saturday's comments appear to walk back Giuliani's earlier claim in an interview with HuffPost that Trump had personally intervened to stop AT&T’s attempt to merge with Time Warner.
"The president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted," Giuliani said. He added, “Whatever lobbying was done didn’t reach the president."
AT&T's top lobbyist Bob Quinn has said Cohen didn’t perform any lobbying work for them. The company announced on Friday that Quinn is retiring and source familiar with the situation told NBC News that Quinn's retirement is "clearly in relation to this situation."
The telecom giant's CEO said hiring Cohen was "a big mistake," according to a company memo sent on Friday.
The president has made several public comments about his desire to see the merger terminated, while the Justice Department has demanded a sale of CNN-unit Turner Broadcasting or AT&T’s DirecTV as a condition of rubber-stamping the deal.
Trump has railed against the merger and against Time Warner’s CNN, saying the deal is "not good for the country." In November, AT&T tried to raise the question of Trump's interference in the deal.
“There’s been a lot of reporting and speculation whether this is all about CNN, frankly I don’t know," said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. "But nobody should be surprised that the question keeps coming up because we’ve been witnessing such an abrupt change in the application of antitrust law here.”
Before taking up his role as the DOJ's antitrust chief in 2017, Makan Delrahim told a Canadian outlet: “I don't see this as a major antitrust problem.” But he seemingly changed his mind once on the job. The Justice Department cited antitrust concerns when it blocked the proposed $85 billion merger in November.
Federal judge Richard Leon is set to issue a decision on June 12 as to whether the merger can proceed. The case could influence the outcome of numerous other pending mergers in media and the telecom industry.
Dan Petrocelli, an AT&T lawyer who is arguing the case against the Justice Department, had wanted the judge to allow him to probe communications between the White House and the Justice Department about the merger. The judge ruled against his request.
Kelly O'Donnell reported from Washington. Claire Atkinson and Daniella Silva reported from New York.