DealBook Briefing: How Skadden Got Entangled in the Mueller Inquiry

Good Wednesday morning. How Skadden got involved in the special counsel’s Russia inquiry. AT&T’s political gambit suffers a setback. And Amazon is still giving retailers heartburn.

The giant law firm’s work for the former Trump campaign manager — who has been charged with several criminal acts by Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election interference — has come into question after a former Skadden associate entered a guilty plea in the investigation.

More from Kenneth Vogel and Andrew Kramer of the NYT:

Skadden’s response: It fired the associate in question, Alex van der Zwaan, last year, and is cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s team.

Elsewhere in Russian election meddling: Here’s what we still don’t know about Facebook’s role. Chris Hughes, a co-founder, said Facebook must do more to prevent foreign interference. President Trump blamed Barack Obama for not being tougher on Russia. And meet the oligarch who helped fund Russia’s troll agency.

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Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in Pyeongchang, and Michael J. de la Merced and Amie Tsang in London.

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The judge overseeing the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block the $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner denied AT&T’s request to see government communications about the case. He ruled that AT&T had not “made a credible showing” that the White House had singled it out for retribution.

More from Cecilia Kang of the NYT:

AT&T had already agreed to take the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, off the witness list — but could call him during the trial if needed.

The trial begins March 19.

Symptom A: Albertsons buying Rite Aid to gain scale and enter the pharmacy business

Symptom B: Walmart’s online sales growing just 23 percent in the fourth quarter, after it splashed out on Jet.com, Bonobos and more

More from Michael Corkery and Chad Bray of the NYT:

Critics’ corner

• Of Walmart, Jennifer Saba of Breakingviews writes, “Longer term, failure online is an existential risk.” But Elizabeth Winkler of Heard on the Street says, “Given its huge size, investors need to temper their growth expectations.”

• Of the Rite Aid deal, Max Nisen and Tara Lachapelle of Gadfly write, “There aren’t a lot of appealing options out there, and Albertsons had largely exhausted them.”

Elsewhere in Amazon news

• Why would Amazon employees working on the HQ2 search be interested in an article about Arlington, Va.? Hmm. (ARL Now)

• Amazon now sells its own line of over-the-counter drugs. (CNBC)

• A closer look at Jeff Bezos’s 10,000-year clock. (CNBC)

• Start-ups that take money from the Alexa Fund should still fear Amazon’s competition. (The Information)

• Mr. Trump ordered the Justice Department to regulate bump stocks. But the Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have banned many semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines. And a Florida teachers’ pension plan had held a stake in the maker of the rifle used in the Parkland school shooting.

• A clampdown by John Kelly on interim security clearances has upset Jared Kushner, who has one. (NYT)

• The advocacy group Common Cause filed complaints with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission over reports of $150,000 being paid to a former Playboy Playmate who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. (WSJ)

• The Trump administration wants to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, even though the kingdom won’t accept nonproliferation restrictions. (WSJ)

• The U.S. sold $179 billion worth of debt yesterday, now that the debt ceiling is no longer an immediate issue. (Bloomberg)

From Peter Eavis:

For the first time — and after much protest — public companies must report their employees’ median pay and compare it with that of their C.E.O.s. (It’s thanks to Dodd-Frank.)

Honeywell disclosed last week that its C.E.O., Darius Adamczyk, took home $16.8 million last year, 333 times median employee pay.

Ratios at other companies:

• Teva Pharmaceuticals’ was 302:1

• Apollo Global Management’s was 1:1 (if you exclude, as Apollo did, Leon Black’s $91 million in dividends from his stock holdings)

From Matthew Goldstein:

A Manhattan federal judge rejected a motion by his Point72 Asset Management to temporarily seal the complaint in a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the firm by Lauren Bonner, an employee who described the firm as a testosterone-fueled “boys’ club.”

The judge said the request was “not narrowly tailored” and ran counter to the “presumption of public access” to court records.

Point72 is trying to push the case into arbitration, and said the complaint revealed details of other employees’ compensation.

Elsewhere in sexual misconduct: Sports Illustrated published an investigation into a corrosive culture inside the Dallas Mavericks N.B.A. franchise.

If Broadcom doesn’t walk away now that Qualcomm has raised its bid for NXP Semiconductors to $127.50 a share — and it may not, despite previous threats — then it may take its chances at Qualcomm’s annual shareholder meeting.

Broadcom wants six seats on Qualcomm’s board. That campaign gained momentum when the proxy advisers I.S.S. and Glass Lewis recommended that Qualcomm shareholders back most of Broadcom’s slate.

From Glass Lewis’s report yesterday:

The deals flyaround

• Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason pressed Xerox to pursue alternatives to its complicated deal with Fujifilm. (Reuters)

• HNA has borrowed from the private equity firm Pacific Alliance Group, a sign that it may be struggling to raise capital from more traditional sources. (FT)

• How the founders of a price comparison site ended up as antitrust crusaders taking on Google. (NYT)

• The dominance of tech giants like Facebook and Amazon could harm productivity and economic growth, according to Banque de France. And George Soros’s Open Society organization is examining ways to push back against those companies.

• Apple is in talks to buy directly from miners to secure long-term supplies of cobalt, according to unnamed sources. (It’s vital for batteries.) But don’t expect the Democratic Republic of Congo to become a real-life Wakanda.

• Facebook and Twitter fall short in enforcing rules against impersonation. (NYT)

• A.I. is getting cheaper to make — and to manipulate. (NYT)

• Spotify’s co-founders plan to keep control through super-voting shares, unnamed sources say. (Bloomberg)

• Google has revamped its payments service to better compete against Apple Pay Cash. (CNBC)

The embattled country is pushing ahead with the presale of the “petro,” backed by its oil reserves, hoping to pay down debt and increase imports. President Nicolás Maduro called it a “cryptocurrency to take on Superman.” But few people give it much hope.

Some questions: Would buying the currency run afoul of U.S. sanctions? Can you trust the Venezuelan government to maintain the link between the petro and oil reserves? And how will pricing work?

Elsewhere in digital money

• Long Blockchain — yes, that company — replaced its C.E.O. and announced plans to spin off its iced beverages business, while trying to avoid being delisted by Nasdaq.

• Airbus and Mercedes-Benz have hired a blockchain consultancy run by U.C. Berkeley students. (The Information)

• Hackers broke into a Tesla-owned Amazon cloud account to use it for mining virtual currencies. (Fortune)

• You missed your chance of free Bitcoins. (Reuters)

And Bitcoin’s at $11,308.70 today, according to CoinMarketCap.

• Jeff Hildebrand, the billionaire oil mogul, has stepped down as the C.E.O. of Hilcorp, though he’ll remain executive chairman. (Bloomberg)

• The C.E.O. of Gap’s namesake brand, Jeff Kirwan, has stepped down as the label continues to struggle. (WSJ)

• The C.E.O. of the Mayo Clinic, John Noseworthy, plans to step down by year end. (Axios)

• A Republican plan to let people pay for time off with a new baby by collecting social security benefits early has raised concerns about putting women into more precarious positions in retirement. (NYT)

• If the U.S. had to face a recession, it would have few stabilizing tools at its disposal. (NYT)

• The Weinstein Company has formally responded to one of the class-action lawsuits it faces, saying Harvey Weinstein acted alone and that the statute of limitations had run out on some of the claims. (Deadline)

• The slide in the dollar has less to do with U.S. policies and fundamentals and more to do with investors preferring turnaround stories in Europe and Japan, says Goldman Sachs. (Bloomberg)

• Outstanding Hospitality Management, which operates airport restaurant spaces, sued the Kushner Companies over a planned food hall at the former NYT Building in Manhattan. (Bloomberg)

• Li Yonghong, owner of the soccer club A.C. Milan, denied reports in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he was selling assets to settle debts. (BBC)

• Ray Dalio’s $22 billion bet is against large European companies, but ones with far more economic exposure to the rest of the world than to Europe. (FT)

• Glencore is grappling with how to pay Dan Gertler, a former partner who has been placed under sanctions by the U.S. government. It will owe him as much as $200 million in royalties over two years. (WSJ)

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