Federal investigators aren’t the only ones who want answers about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that corporations shelled out last year to an LLC owned by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent inquiries to pharmaceutical giant Novartis and to Cohen’s attorney on Friday asking them to turn over documents explaining their arrangement.
Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible bank fraud, campaign finance violations and other financial crimes.
In a letter to Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan, Wyden expressed “deep concern” that the company was pushing the Food and Drug Administration for approval of an expensive cancer drug at the same time that it entered a $1.2 million contract with Cohen for health care insights that he was unqualified to provide.
“The Senate Finance Committee has a duty to ensure that pharmaceutical companies providing services to federal health programs are conducting business in a legal and transparent manner,” Wyden wrote.
He noted that Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, was not a health care policy consultancy, that Cohen himself was not a lobbyist and that the sum Novartis paid Cohen “far exceeded what it paid any of the registered lobbying firms it engaged during the first 15 months of the Trump administration.”
Wyden asked the company and Cohen to turn over their contract and statement of work, details about how each payment was made, and all communications between the two parties. He also asked to answer a simple but critical question: “Why did Novartis decide to engage Mr. Cohen and/or his firm(s)?”
The payments Cohen received from Novartis, AT&T, and the U.S. affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch came to light earlier this week. They were first revealed in a document released by Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, and the three companies subsequently admitted to making the payments.
As Novartis acknowledged in a public statement, the company realized after its first meeting with Cohen in March 2017 that he would be “unable to provide” the kind of consulting advice they sought. Yet they continued to make payments to him until Feb. 2018.
An anonymous Novartis employee familiar with the matter told STAT News that they did so out of fear that ending the arrangement “might have caused anger” to the President, as Wyden noted in his letter to Cohen.
The same employee also described the situation as if they were “hiring [Cohen] as a lobbyist.”
Read the letters below.