Sen­ate Dems blast No­var­tis’ ties to Trump at­tor­ney, claim phar­ma gi­ant of­fered mis­lead­ing ex­pla­na­tions in damn­ing re­port

Sen­ate De­moc­rats is­sued a damn­ing re­port Fri­day morn­ing say­ing that their probe of the $1.2 mil­lion in pay­ments No­var­tis made to Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen re­vealed that ex-CEO Joe Jimenez had ex­ten­sive con­tacts with Co­hen re­lat­ed to drug pol­i­cy and ac­cess to the White House, and that com­pa­ny of­fi­cials then went on to mis­lead the pub­lic re­cent­ly with their ex­pla­na­tion for what had hap­pened.

Joe Jimenez

The ex­plo­sive charges con­tend that rather than the brief and in­con­se­quen­tial con­tact No­var­tis claimed to have had with Co­hen, Jimenez was in con­tact with the at­tor­ney by phone on 4 oc­ca­sions, with mul­ti­ple email ex­changes over 6 months. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­clud­ed “the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drug pric­ing pro­pos­als, No­var­tis’s po­ten­tial in­vest­ment in a small drug com­pa­ny backed by Colum­bus No­va, and with re­gard to opi­oid law­suits.”

“What he was sell­ing was a line of ac­cess to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Sen. Ron Wyden in an in­ter­view with ABC News. “That would be how I would char­ac­ter­ize it.”

No­var­tis quick­ly kicked back at the Dems’ re­port this morn­ing, say­ing that they had co­op­er­at­ed ful­ly with the probe and that it dis­agreed with its con­clu­sion that the phar­ma gi­ant had of­fered mis­lead­ing com­ments.

This was No­var­tis’ de­fense last May, which the sen­a­tors say doesn’t stand up un­der ex­am­i­na­tion:

“Mr. Co­hen had made no ef­fort to learn any­thing about No­var­tis, or the pol­i­cy is­sues that were of con­cern to No­var­tis specif­i­cal­ly, or the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try gen­er­al­ly…[he] was not able to pro­vide guid­ance as to how [the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion] would eval­u­ate and re­spond to the rel­e­vant pol­i­cy is­sues. …[and] was not able to de­liv­er … sub­stan­tive con­sult­ing ad­vice and in­sight.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, No­var­tis’ claim that it sus­pend­ed con­tact af­ter one meet­ing in ear­ly March is sim­ply not true, of­fer­ing re­peat­ed ex­am­ples of e-mail com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Co­hen and Jimenez, as they dis­cussed in­vest­ments, pub­lished ar­ti­cles and pol­i­cy.

(C)on­trary to No­var­tis’s state­ment that it did not have fur­ther en­gage­ment with Mr. Co­hen, the doc­u­ments No­var­tis pro­vid­ed to the Sen­a­tors show that Mr. Co­hen main­tained reg­u­lar con­tact with Mr. Jimenez un­til at least Sep­tem­ber 2017.  No­var­tis’ cur­rent CEO Vas­ant Narasimhan nev­er com­mu­ni­cat­ed with Mr. Co­hen.

The re­port goes on to state that No­var­tis’ claim — made two months ago un­der Narasimhan — that the on­ly rea­son it con­tin­ued to pay Co­hen month­ly pay­ments for a year was that it was con­trac­tu­al­ly ob­lig­at­ed to do so al­so ap­pears to be un­true.

No­var­tis may have mis­led the pub­lic when the com­pa­ny stat­ed that it con­tin­ued to pay Mr. Co­hen the full $1.2 mil­lion even af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that he could not pro­vide the promised con­sult­ing ser­vices be­cause “the con­tract could not be ter­mi­nat­ed at will.” To the ex­tent this as­ser­tion is true, it is be­cause No­var­tis en­gaged in ex­ten­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions that re­sult­ed in weak­er and vaguer con­tract lan­guage than the com­pa­ny had ini­tial­ly sought. But the as­ser­tion does not ap­pear to be cor­rect. It ap­pears that in fact the com­pa­ny could have ter­mi­nat­ed Mr. Co­hen’s con­tract.

The damn­ing re­port al­so notes:

The ini­tial draft con­tract pro­pos­al that No­var­tis sent to Mr. Co­hen – which Mr. Co­hen lat­er mod­i­fied – called ex­plic­it­ly for him to pro­vide “ac­cess to key pol­i­cy­mak­ers” in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, and he rep­re­sent­ed that he would do so. In June 2017, Mr. Jimenez sent Mr. Co­hen an email – “based on our con­ver­sa­tion last week” – trans­mit­ting a six-point plan con­tain­ing No­var­tis’s list of “ideas to low­er drug costs in the U.S.” which, ac­cord­ing to No­var­tis, was for “dis­cus­sion with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion” of­fi­cials.

The plan in­clud­ed ini­tia­tives cham­pi­oned by the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.Mr. Co­hen stat­ed he would show the doc­u­ment to an uniden­ti­fied third par­ty linked to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, who would pro­vide feed­back on the doc­u­ment. Mr. Co­hen promised to pro­vide the third-par­ty feed­back to Mr. Jimenez.

Sev­er­al of the No­var­tis pro­pos­als would lat­er ap­pear in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drug pric­ing plan re­leased in May 2018.

An­drew In­trater runs Colum­bus No­va, which is linked to his cousin, Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg, a Russ­ian bil­lion­aire oli­garch with close ties to Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Co­hen brought up an in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ty in Yamo Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which has ties to Colum­bus No­va, with Jimenez. States the re­port:

While No­var­tis had de­clined to in­vest in Yamo af­ter a pre­vi­ous meet­ing, Mr. Co­hen asked Mr. Jimenez to “check to see if it was han­dled prop­er­ly.” With­in an hour, Mr. Jimenez promised to over­see the is­sue  per­son­al­ly. Key Colum­bus No­va per­son­nel al­so serve as Yamo of­fi­cials, and Colum­bus  No­va pro­vid­ed “Back Of­fice & Fi­nance Ser­vices” to the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny.

The re­port was writ­ten by staff for Sen­a­tors Wyden, Pat­ty Mur­ray, Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Richard Blu­men­thal, who de­mand­ed more in­fo from No­var­tis af­ter the pay­ments were re­vealed in May.

Com­pa­ny ex­ecs knew back in No­vem­ber that they could face a pub­lic out­cry over the is­sue, when Robert Mueller’s team came in to ask ques­tions about the re­la­tion­ship. Co­hen him­self has been at the cen­ter of a me­dia cir­cus sur­round­ing the rev­e­la­tion that he had paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep qui­et about an al­leged af­fair with Trump — writ­ing a check from the same shell com­pa­ny that No­var­tis paid in­to. But No­var­tis nev­er dis­closed any­thing about the fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion in pub­lic fil­ings.

No­var­tis quick­ly turned de­fen­sive once the pay­ments were re­vealed, trig­ger­ing a fire storm of con­tro­ver­sy. The com­pa­ny quick­ly leaked com­pa­ny mem­os from Narasimhan con­ced­ing that the com­pa­ny had made a mis­take and pledg­ing to do bet­ter in the fu­ture. But the com­pa­ny has nev­er of­fered an ex­pla­na­tion of what the new CEO knew about the Co­hen mat­ter and when he knew it.

No­var­tis quick­ly kicked back at the re­port, not­ing:

We dis­agree with the re­port’s con­clu­sion that we is­sued a mis­lead­ing pub­lic state­ment re­gard­ing the ex­tent of our en­gage­ment with Mr. Co­hen. 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.

The on­ly ad­di­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion we had be­yond the March 1 meet­ing was when Mr. Co­hen ini­ti­at­ed con­tact with our for­mer CEO, Mr. Jimenez, on a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions. 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.

As we have al­ready ac­knowl­edged, No­var­tis made a mis­take in en­ter­ing in­to the con­tract with Michael Co­hen. And 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.”

Sen­ate De­moc­rats Re­port: White House Ac­cess for Sale by ar­salan arif on Scribd

Im­age: Michael Co­hen. SHUT­TER­STOCK

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