Wyden Wants to Know What Novartis Was Seeking From Cohen Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Ron Wyden asked Novartis AG’s chief executive officer to explain what the Swiss drugmaker was hoping to achieve with its $1.2 million in payments to Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of President Donald Trump.

Novartis hired Cohen’s consulting firm in 2017 to provide insight on Trump’s health-care plans. The drugmaker said earlier this week that the lawyer’s firm was unable to provide the services it was seeking, but it paid him anyway. CEO Vas Narasimhan said in a letter to employees on Thursday that the company “made a mistake” in retaining Cohen.

Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, noted in a letter to Narasimhan that at the time Novartis was paying Cohen, it was seeking approval and negotiating a payment deal with the U.S. government for a cancer drug called Kymriah that has a list price of $475,000. Wyden is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal health programs.

A Novartis spokesman said the company anticipated Wyden’s letter and plans to fully cooperate.

The U.S. government spent $2 billion in 2015 on three Novartis cancer drugs for its Medicare health program for the elderly, Wyden said in his letter. Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, spent more than $320 million, before discounts, on a Novartis cancer drug and a respiratory treatment.

Wyden said that of the lobbying firms the Swiss drugmaker paid during the first 15 months of the Trump administration, no single firm was paid more than $300,000, while Cohen’s firm was paid that amount each quarter for one year.

The payments dragged Novartis into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. The company said it was contacted by Mueller’s office in November, though now considers its role in that inquiry closed.

Wyden is seeking the contracts between Novartis, Cohen and his firm Essential Consultants LLC; more details about the payments; and documents showing how the deal was approved inside the drugmaker and who was involved in that process. The lawmaker asked for similar information from Cohen.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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