How AT&T and Novartis Became Part of the Michael Cohen Saga: DealBook Briefing

Good Wednesday morning. Here’s what we’re watching:

• Walmart finally announced a deal to buy control of Flipkart for about $16 billion.

• AT&T and Novartis paid Michael Cohen.

• What the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal means for the business world.

• The bottom line on Vodafone’s big deal with Liberty Global.

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Washington was abuzz yesterday with the news that Michael Cohen’s Essential Consultants received $500,000 from an investment fund tied to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. But AT&T and Novartis were also shown to have paid money to the firm — the one that Mr. Cohen used to pay Stormy Daniels.

AT&T said Essential was “one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” and that its contract ended in December. Novartis said that its contract ran for a year, through February.

There’s no link between AT&T or Novartis and the investigations into Mr. Cohen. But AT&T does have business before the Trump administration, including its $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner. What an unnamed source told the WSJ:

The Atlantic notes that AT&T’s $200,000 payouts to Essential Consultants put it in the middle of the telecom giant’s overall lobbying expenses for last year.

With President Trump making good on his threat to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the business world has been grappling with what to do next. European companies like Total were considering whether to abandon investments — their governments promised unspecified protections — while Boeing and G.E. were also caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, oil continued to rise as the U.S. warned buyers to curb purchases from Iran within six months. (Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, said it would help stabilize markets.)

Peter Eavis’s take: While Mr. Trump’s foreign policies haven’t yet caused serious losses in the stock market, investors’ stoicism could face greater tests soon. Earnings growth for corporate America this year probably peaked in the first quarter. And since neither the E.U. nor China looks close to caving to Mr. Trump’s threats, global trade tensions look set to escalate.

The big question: How hard will the U.S. crack down on allies who don’t go along with sanctions — is this another trade fight?

Elsewhere in Iran news: Peter Thiel’s Palantir was helping monitor Iran. Some cybersecurity experts fear Iran will now hack more.

In agreeing to buy Liberty Global’s cable networks in Germany and Eastern Europe for $22 billion, the British telecom giant is making the biggest move yet to consolidate the Continent’s internet industry. Vodafone won’t just be in wireless: It will offer high-speed internet and cable to 54 million customers.

Why this matters, according to analysts at JPMorgan Chase (via the FT):

Not so fast: Expect Deutsche Telekom, now in Vodafone’s cross hairs, to fight the transaction.

Other telecom-adjacent news: Disney’s best quarterly results in two years were overshadowed by Comcast’s amassing a war chest to potentially challenge its Fox bid. James Murdoch won’t join Disney in any case. ESPN’s $750 million, five-year U.F.C. streaming deal shows that sports rights remain highly valuable. Sinclair Broadcasting may woo Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. SoftBank’s latest earnings surpassed estimates because Sprint finally turned a quarterly profit.

• Richard Cordray, the former head of the C.F.P.B., won the Democratic nomination for Ohio governor, while Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy C.E.O., came in third in the Republican Senate primary in West Virginia. (NYT)

• The House voted to scrap an Obama-era rule meant to prevent discrimination by auto lenders. (NYT)

• Insurers in some markets plan huge price increases for Affordable Care Act plans, partly because of the repeal of the individual mandate. (Axios)

• The tax incentives that Racine, Wis., or Newark throw at Foxconn or Amazon are signs of desperation, Eduardo Porter writes. (NYT)

• Shareholder gun-control activists plan to speak at Sturm Ruger’s annual meeting today, but don’t expect much change. (NYT)

New York lawmakers have been considering whether to replace the state’s attorney general, a leading critic of both President Trump and Harvey Weinstein, with a woman. Potential candidates include Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate, and Kathleen Rice, who challenged Mr. Schneiderman for the job. (Ben Lawsky, once New York’s top financial regulator, has also been mentioned.)

Whoever replaces Mr. Schneiderman must decide whether to continue his moves against Mr. Trump.

And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed a special prosecutor — not the Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance Jr. — to investigate Mr. Schneiderman.

Elsewhere in workplace misconduct: Five more Nike executives have left amid a furor over harassment and discrimination. A judge approved the sale of Weinstein Company assets to Lantern Capital. And Martin Sorrell, who left WPP after unspecified allegations, plans a new venture.

• Toshiba is reportedly worried that Chinese regulators won’t approve its $18 billion deal to sell its memory business to a group led by Bain Capital. (WSJ)

• Glassdoor, the recruiting site, agreed to sell itself to Japan’s Recruit for $1.2 billion. (Bloomberg)

• Keystone Foods, the main U.S. supplier of Chicken McNuggets, has reportedly drawn interest from Cargill, Tyson Foods and Fosun International. (Bloomberg)

• The billionaire Albert Frère sold his 6.6 percent stake in Burberry, sending shares in the fashion house down nearly 7 percent. (Bloomberg)

• Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Ashkenazy Acquisition agreed to buy full control of the Plaza Hotel in New York for a reported $600 million. (WSJ)

• TPG Capital is reportedly in talks to invest in Anastasia Beverly Hills, a makeup company, at a $3 billion valuation. (CNBC)

The company’s biggest mainstream products outside its main app — Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — will now fall under Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox. A group of emerging technologies, including a new blockchain-focused team, will be overseen by Mike Schroepfer, the chief tech officer. And ads, personnel, security and growth will be run by Javier Olivan, who has led growth efforts.

Though the move had been under consideration for a while, the Cambridge Analytica scandal sped up those efforts, according to the NYT. And it may streamline reporting lines and help keep Facebook nimble. But while it gives Mr. Cox in particular more prominence, it doesn’t fundamentally change things.

Elsewhere in Facebook news: The company will block political ads from groups outside Ireland ahead of that country’s referendum on abortion. And Jeffrey Zients, an Obama administration official, will replace the WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum as a director.

Elsewhere in tech: Here’s a prototype Uber flying taxi. The surge in A.I. and cryptocurrencies has created a shortage of graphics chips. Japan’s industrial future might be stuff that makes stuff. The union-affiliated CtW Investment Group plans to campaign against several Tesla directors. What else tech giants can do to improve racial diversity.

Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, has returned to King & Spalding as a partner specializing in investigations. (King & Spalding)

• Jefferies has hired Peter Scheman from Goldman Sachs as a co-head of Americas industrial banking. (Reuters)

• MoviePass, which goes through about $21.7 million a month, has $15.5 million left in cash. (Bloomberg)

• Deutsche Bank is reportedly considering cutting about a fifth of its U.S. staff. (Bloomberg)

• Picasso’s “Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie,” once owned by David and Peggy Rockefeller, sold for $115 million at auction. And a New York judge rejected a lawsuit against the sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Flesh and Spirit.”

• The House of Lords amended Brexit legislation to demand that Britain stay in the European Economic Area. (BBC)

• Argentina has begun negotiating for credit from the I.M.F., still widely blamed there for a 2001 debt crisis. (NYT)

• Denver Post journalists came to Manhattan to protest the paper’s owner, the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. (NYT)

• Nordstrom Rack’s president flew to St. Louis to apologize to three black teens it had falsely accused of attempted theft. (NYT)

• Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury brand, found emissions-manipulating software in about 60,000 of its best-selling diesel vehicles. (WSJ)

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