AT&T Hires Former Tillerson Aide for Washington Job After Michael Cohen Flap

(Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. chose a powerful insider to bolster its Washington presence by hiring Margaret Peterlin, a lawyer who occupied a top perch in the Trump administration’s State Department after advising leading congressional Republicans.

Peterlin has begun work as a senior vice president for global external and public affairs, one of several executives reporting to Dallas-based David McAtee, who’s organizing his staff after the acquisition of WarnerMedia, said a company spokesman.

McAtee assumed responsibility for external and legislative affairs in May after that unit’s head, Robert Quinn, abruptly retired following news the company, after the 2016 election, had hired Michael Cohen, at the time President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and long-time “fixer.” AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, in a memo to workers, called hiring Cohen “a big mistake” and said “our Washington D.C. team’s vetting process clearly failed.”

Peterlin served as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff and was among a small group of family and aides Trump took to his meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican in May 2017. Trump fired Tillerson in March, and Peterlin was out of a job.

Core Advisers

Critics said Peterlin was a key part of a small, core group of advisers that left Tillerson isolated within his own department. By the time he was fired by Trump via Twitter, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive officer had few defenders within the administration, Congress or the State Department.

A Navy veteran who as a congressional aide helped draft the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., Peterlin gained Tillerson’s trust by navigating him through his Senate confirmation hearings.

Peterlin founded the Chicago Journal of International Law at the University of Chicago Law School. She went on to a clerkship with Jerry Smith, a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston, whose other past clerks include Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.

Peterlin’s career trajectory accelerated when she joined the staff of House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican, as a foreign-affairs adviser in the summer of 2001. That role, as well as Peterlin’s later job as national security adviser for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, put her in a prominent role at a crucial time.

Under Armey, Peterlin helped write the Authorization for the Use of Military Force governing the U.S. war on terrorism, the single-page statute that remains in effect to this day. She also helped shepherd through Congress the Patriot Act and the legislation that established the Department of Homeland Security.

After a stint at the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where she participated in international delegations, and posts at food company Mars Inc. and the technology investment firm XLP Capital, Peterlin was tapped by the Trump transition team to help navigate nominees through the confirmation process.

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