- A new Senate report has found that pharmaceutical giant Novartis had more communication with President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen than the company let on.
- Novartis came under scrutiny in May after it was revealed that Novartis signed a $1.2 million yearlong contract with Cohen’s consulting firm in February 2017.
- Novartis said at the time that it had only taken one meeting with Cohen before realizing he couldn’t help them.
- The Senate report also found that Novartis had looked to hire Cohen for access to “key policymakers” and argued that the contract could have been terminated early.
We’re starting to get a clearer picture of the relationship between Novartis and Essential Consulting, a firm linked to Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.
A new report by Senate Democrats challenges what the pharmaceutical giant had said after its $1.2 million yearlong contract with Cohen came to light in May.
The payments were part of a yearlong contract Novartis had with Essential, in which the pharma company paid the consulting firm $100,000 a month. The contract, which began in February 2017, “focused on US healthcare policy matters” and the agreement expired in February 2018.
Among the revelations from the report:
- The senators found that Novartis and Cohen had more contact than Novartis had previously let on. The company said in May that it met with Cohen only once – in March 2017. But in documents Novartis provided to the senators, they found that Cohen and Novartis’ then-CEO Joe Jimenez had at least four phone calls over the next six months and had emailed each other.
- The report also found that Cohen had been hired for access to “key policymakers.”
- The senators claimed that the yearlong contract could have been terminated early. Novartis had said that it couldn’t end the contract because it could only be terminated for cause.
Novartis in a statement disputed the assertion that it had been misleading in its earlier statement.
“We disagree with the report’s conclusion that we issued a misleading public statement regarding the extent of our engagement with Mr. Cohen,” the company said. “As the documents we produced show, Novartis had one and only meeting with Mr. Cohen on March 1, 2017 and then concluded he was not able to provide the substantive consulting advice and insight for which he was hired. We never asked Mr. Cohen to perform any services on our behalf after March 1, nor did he perform any.”
Novartis said that the communication was initiated by Cohen. “On one of these occasions, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Jimenez for ideas on how to lower drug prices. In response, Mr. Jimenez provided him with a list of well-known ideas for lowering the cost of pharmaceuticals that had been discussed publicly in the industry,” the company said.
Novartis changed CEOs in February, with Vas Narasimhan replacing former CEO Joe Jimenez. Narasimhan was among the European executives Trump had dinner with in January at Davos, though Novartis has said the current CEO was “in no way involved with this agreement.”
After the contract came to light in May, Novartis’s top lawyer resigned, saying “it was an error.”
Novartis re-asserted that the contract was a “mistake.”
The company added, “In hindsight – and certainly knowing everything we know now – we should have tried to terminate the contract with Mr. Cohen regardless of our views at the time of its legal enforceability.”