Michael Cohen on Novartis ties: '(T)hey wanted me to provide access to government, including the president'
Michael Cohen isn’t just calling President — and former client — Donald Trump a liar and a con man. He’s also claiming that pharma giant Novartis had tried to set him up as a lobbyist for the company in an attempt to gain direct access to Trump and other influential government officials.
And that’s a far cry from the way that Novartis execs have characterized their motivation behind the $1.2 million contract, which they maintained consistently was a straightforward but short-lived attempt to gain insights into the Trump administration’s thoughts on healthcare policy.
“Novartis sent me their contract, which stated specifically that they wanted me to lobby,” Cohen told lawmakers in today’s high profile testimony on Capitol Hill. “That they wanted me to provide access to government, including the president.”
“That paragraph was crossed out by me, initialed, and written in my own handwriting that says I will not lobby or do government relations work,” he continued, according to a transcript of the remarks published by Reuters.
His remarks came in response to questions from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who wanted to know more about Cohen’s operations while he was still close to Trump. In the exchange, Cohen said he had directly interacted with Novartis 6 times. And the disbarred attorney contested Novartis’ position — outlined by company sources to various media outlets at the time — that he had contacted the company. Novartis, he said, sought him out based “on my knowledge of the enigma” that Trump is.
Novartis’ explanation — echoed by the recently retired CEO Joe Jimenez — was that their outreach to the attorney was a simple way to gain a better understanding of the Trump administration’s approach to healthcare policies. Once it became apparent that he could provide little help, they continued, the connection ended.
Then last year Novartis was shaken to the core by a corporate crisis that erupted around the news that their monthly payments to Cohen went into the same account that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels, the stripper who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.
A few weeks after the scandal broke last summer, a group of Democrats in the Senate released their own quick report, concluding that the company’s contention that top execs had only a brief, inconsequential exchange with Cohen and were forced to pay out the contract misrepresented the numerous contacts Jimenez had with Cohen.
“What he was selling was a line of access to the Trump administration,” said Sen. Ron Wyden in an interview with ABC News in July. “That would be how I would characterize it.” Wyden and his colleagues outlined numerous contacts Jimenez had with Cohen in his last year as CEO, before Vas Narasimhan took the reins.
Novartis rejected that position at the time and quickly shuttered the window on comments. It’s staying shut today. A spokesperson for the company told Endpoints News:
We have previously addressed all questions regarding our relationship with Essential Consultants and we consider this matter closed.
CEO Narasimhan has sought to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Cohen story, but the company’s explanations all took part on his watch. In the wake of the news that Novartis had paid Cohen $1.2 million, the pharma giant — which has been involved in a string of ethics scandals over the years — vowed that it had turned a new leaf. Part of that effort involved bringing in a prominent German attorney to lead their ethics, risk and compliance efforts.
Image: Michael Cohen (Shutterstock)