As Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, unveiled last night, in addition to a $500K payment from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg made to an LLC controlled by Trump's attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen also received other payments from US telecom giant AT&T (which is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the DOJ over its purchase of Time Warner), Swiss healthcare giant Novartis, and Korea Aerospace Industries, amounting to $200K, $400K and $150K, respectively.
Naturally, many were curious to find out the reason behind these transfers which could be seen as - at best - lobbying payments, and at worst - an illegal attempt to purchase influence.
Earlier today, Novartis which had been in the spotlight since the revelation, confirmed that for a year, starting in February 2017, it had paid Essential Consultants, a shell company set up by Cohen in Delaware. The arrangement related to “US healthcare policy matters”, the company said. Confirming the arrangement, it further clarified that "The terms were consistent with the market."
Avenatti was not impressed with the explanation.
And now Novartis claims they hired Mr. Cohen for “healthcare” matters (they paid him approx $1 Million). Wow - he’s a doctor as well!! Very talented guy this Mr. Cohen. #basta— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 9, 2018
Novartis also revealed that it had been contacted by officials from Mueller’s office in November last year, confirming that Mueller has been in possession of the wire transfer details for months, and somehow these had been leaked to Avenatti.
Avenatti sought to connect the payments from Novartis to the company’s incoming chief executive, Vas Narasimhan, being invited to a group dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January 2018.
But Novartis stressed on Wednesday that the company’s contract with Cohen predated Narasimhan, and said he had “no involvement whatsoever” in the arrangement.
Then, because the market was clearly eager for more information, Novartis released an email to various newswires including Bloomberg and CNBC, in which it again confirmed it had paid Michael Cohen’s Essential Consultants just under $100,000 a month for a period of a year, more than the $400,000 initially suggested.
However, killing some of the cloak and dagger suspense, Novartis said shortly after it entered into the February agreement with Cohen, it held its first meeting with Cohen in March 2017 and determined that the firm would "be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US health-care policy matters."
Subsequently, the company decided “not to engage further,” but continued to make payments until the contract expired because it could not be terminated for cause.
And the punchline: Novartis had believed that Cohen could advise the company as to how Trump’s administration might approach health-care policies, including the Affordable Care Act.
In other words, Novartis, as AT&T and Korea Aerospace, had hoped that Cohen would turn out to be some sort of "expert network", which due to its direct connections to the president, had some valuable insights. It turns out, this was wrong from day one, although props to Cohen for hustling Novartis into believing he had enough information to be worth a cool 1.2 million.
Novartis' full letter below:
In February 2017, shortly after the election of President Trump, Novartis entered into a one year agreement with Essential Consultants. With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act. The agreement was for a term of one year, and paid Essential Consultants 100,000 USD per month.
In March 2017, Novartis had its first meeting with Michael Cohen under this agreement. Following this initial meeting, Novartis determined that Michael Cohen and Essential Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further. As the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018.
The engagement of Essential Consultants predated Vas Narasimhan becoming Novartis CEO and he was in no way involved with this agreement. Contrary to recent media reports, this agreement was also in no way related to the group dinner Dr. Narasimhan had at the World Economic Forum in Davos with President Trump and 15 Europe based industry leaders. Suggestions to the contrary clearly misrepresent the facts and can only be intended to further personal or political agendas as to which Novartis should not be a part.
In terms of the Special Counsel's office, Novartis was contacted in November 2017 regarding the company's agreement with Essential Consultants. Novartis cooperated fully with the Special Counsel's office and provided all the information requested. Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement.