Dems: Novartis deal with Cohen sought access to policymakers
July 13, 2018 01:52 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in frequent contact with top officials of pharmaceutical giant Novartis as part of a $1.2 million consulting deal, and the Swiss-based company expected him to provide access to Trump administration policymakers, according to a report Friday by a group of Senate Democrats.
The report does not provide any evidence that Cohen approached Trump or other administration officials on behalf of companies that hired him as a consultant after Trump's election in November 2016. But it offers new details about Cohen's interactions with top Novartis officials, as seen in emails made public, and hints of Cohen's efforts to persuade clients that he had intimate knowledge of the policies and personnel that Trump's White House would promote.
"The sweetheart deals and backdoor promises documented in this report are a snapshot of Cohen's multi-million dollar side hustle as influencer-in-chief," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The other Democrats who joined in the report are Sens. Patty Murray of Washington state, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Novartis disputed the report's conclusion that the company had played down its dealings with Cohen. In a statement, Novartis said its executives met only once with Cohen "and then concluded he was not able to provide the substantive consulting advice and insight for which he was hired."
Novartis said it never asked Cohen to provide any services after March 1, 2017, and reaffirmed its earlier statement that "Novartis made a mistake in entering into the contract with Michael Cohen." In May, Novartis alluded to the single meeting with Cohen but did not detail any of the email or phone talks.
Lanny Davis, Cohen's new lawyer and spokesman, disputed the report's title, "White House access for sale."
"Mr. Cohen, who never introduced anyone from Novartis to anyone in the administration or Congress, did not 'sell access.' As a consultant, he provided strategic advice to his client."
The Senate report said that Cohen had numerous email exchanges with top Novartis officials and spoke at least four times by telephone with Novartis' then-CEO, Joe Jimenez, as well as contacts in "multiple emails." Jimenez announced his resignation last September before Cohen's dealings with Novartis were made public earlier this year.
In email exchanges from February 2017 involving Cohen, Jimenez and Novartis' general counsel, Cohen received and then modified a Novartis-designed "services agreement" that included a reference to contacting Trump administration officials, the Senate report said.
"Specifically," the emailed agreement noted, "the Consultant will provide access to key policymakers in the US government to facilitate constructive discussions about policy matters impacting Novartis."
According to the Senate report, Cohen also pitched Novartis executives on an investment in another pharmaceutical company with connections to Columbus Nova, a New York investment management firm that also hired Cohen as a consultant.
Columbus Nova has managed assets for a global company headed by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was targeted with Treasury Department financial sanctions in April among a group of oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Novartis declined to make that investment, the report said.
By STEPHEN BRAUN
Updated: July 13, 2018 01:52 PM
Created: July 13, 2018 01:34 PM
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