BioPharma, Policy

Congressman calls for criminal investigation of Cohen over Novartis relationship

In testimony Wednesday, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified he had spoken to Novartis six times. Rep. Mark Meadows issued a referral for criminal investigation over contacts with Novartis and Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank.

During testimony Wednesday from Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer,” one issue the now disbarred lawyer touched on was his previous relationship with Swiss drugmaker Novartis. Now, Cohen – who is expected to go to prison in May – could face an additional criminal investigation.

In an exchange between Cohen and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, Meadows inquired about the extent of Cohen’s consulting relationship with Novartis, along with other foreign firms. On Wednesday afternoon, Meadows tweeted that he had entered a referral for criminal investigation, alleging that Cohen had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by illegally lobbying on behalf of Novartis and Kazakhstan-based BTA Bank. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to eight counts on charges of financial crimes.

Cohen is also testifying Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed hearing.

During the testimony, Cohen said he had spoken to Novartis over the telephone six times and that the firm had specifically hired him so that it could have access to the Trump administration, according to live feeds published by media outlets. Novartis disclosed in May 2018 that it had made a contract with Cohen’s firm, Essential Consultants, before the election paying him $100,000 per month between February 2017 and January 2018, for a total of $1.2 million.

“We have previously addressed all questions regarding our relationship with Essential Consultants, and we consider this matter closed,” Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff wrote in an email. In November 2017, the office of special counsel Robert Mueller questioned the drugmaker about the payments, and the company said it has cooperated fully.

At the time of Novartis’s disclosure, the company said the purpose of the agreement with Essential Consultants in order for Cohen to act as an adviser on how the Trump administration would approach health policy, including the Affordable Care Act. Cohen set up Essential Consultants to handle payments of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump had an affair that played a prominent role in Cohen’s testimony Wednesday.

In July, a group of Senate Democrats issued a report alleging that contacts between Novartis and Cohen were more extensive than previously reported, and that an initial draft of the contract – which Cohen subsequently modified – called for him to provide “access to key policymakers” in the Trump administration. Novartis had stated that it met with Cohen only once, but the Senate report alleged that Cohen had at least four phone calls with former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez, who retired from the company on Jan. 31, 2018, and exchanged emails on “substantive issues” between April and September 2017. The company said at the time that it had cooperated with the senators’ inquiries and disagreed that its statement on its relationship with Cohen had been misleading.

Photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images