I know it’s hard to keep track of Trump scandals these days since they multiply like a drug-resistant bacteria, but this one is a biggie. Novartis is one of the largest drug companies in the world, both by revenue ($50 billion in 2017) and market cap, and they got caught red-handed making payments to Donald Trump’s shady lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen. In response to last week’s bombshell, Novartis put out patently absurd statements explaining why they paid $1.2 million to Michael Cohen.
Novartis essentially is saying “we agreed to give Michael Cohen $1.2 million for services, and after one meeting, we realized he couldn't provide what we contractually agreed upon, yet we couldn't terminate the contract for cause.” In even more ridiculous phrasing, Novartis' chief lawyer “retired” today. Per the Wall Street Journal:
Novartis said Wednesday that general counsel Felix Ehrat, 61 years old, is retiring from the company in connection with $1.2 million in payments it made over the course of a year to Michael Cohen's shell company, Essential Consultants LLC.
Novartis' CEO, Vasant Narasimhan, called the agreement a mistake, and we're supposed to believe that Novartis' top lawyer “retired in connection to payments made to Michael Cohen?” What the hell does that even mean? How do you retire in connection with a scandal? Don't you just, you know, retire?
Senior Advisor to Barack Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, who is intimately familiar with “the swamp” due to his time in Washington D.C., suggested that this is far more than just the normal pay to play schemes that permeate throughout both parties in our nation’s capital. Frankly, there’s no way that Novartis’ general counsel simply just “retired.” The implication in the report is that the GC wouldn’t have retired if not for the Cohen payment anyway. It’s no secret that our government is perpetually for sale to the highest bidder, but given that Novartis paid more to Cohen than they did to other lobbyists during that same time period, it suggests that there was far more to this agreement than just the typical D.C. shenanigans.
And that’s just the conclusion you arrive at based on Novartis’ own statements. If you dip into the reporting surrounding this mess, it looks even worse. Per Stat News:
“He reached out to us,” the Novartis employee said, providing STAT with the company’s version of events as it scrambles to contain the fallout from being entangled in the investigations surrounding Trump and his inner circle, including Cohen. “With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players. We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”
Corporations don’t just fire their general counsel because they’re experiencing bad PR. The position is of vital importance to daily operations, and Novartis’ bizarre claim that their chief lawyer “retired,” yet it still was somehow connected to the Cohen payments, stinks to high hell. When you combine this with Novartis’ hilariously inept explanation that they just tossed $1.2 million Cohen’s way, then abandoned the deal after a single meeting, and add the cherry on top that Trump has yet to follow through on his promise to lower drug prices, well, the outline of this corrupt ordeal begins to emerge. Given how dire the situation already is, it would be shocking if Novartis’ general counsel is the only one who “retires” thanks to the fallout regarding President Trump’s fixer.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.