Peterlin will have the title Senior Vice President-Global External and Public Affairs, reporting to David McAtee, AT&T’s general counsel. She had been a key lieutenant to Rex Tillerson during the former Secretary of State’s rocky year in the cabinet.
The hire is part of a revamp of the company’s formidable lobbying operation following the embarrassing disclosure that it had paid Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s scandal-plagued former attorney, as a consultant. Word about Cohen’s hiring got out at the worst possible time for the company, during the climax of the high-stakes trial of a government antitrust lawsuit over its acquisition of Time Warner. CEO Randall Stephenson’s reaction came swiftly.
“Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson wrote in an email to employees in May. “There is no other way to say it — AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”
Bob Quinn, the veteran AT&T exec who authorized a $600,000 payment to Cohen’s firm, Essential Consultants, left the company amid a restructuring of the company’s government and external affairs operations. Even after closing the Time Warner deal, it continues to have a range of fronts where it wants to influence policy-making and regulation, from wireless to internet to media.
AT&T spent $16.8 million on lobbying in the federal system last year, which ranks No. 2 among all companies after Google parent Alphabet, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“This is a new position as McAtee organizes his team to match the needs of a modern media company, particularly with WarnerMedia’s global reach,” an AT&T spokesperson said. “Peterlin brings both private-sector and government leadership experience to AT&T and is a welcomed addition to the E&LA team.”