Trump ex-lawyer Cohen: drugmaker Novartis wanted him to lobby, he refused

FILE PHOTO: Joe Jimenez, the CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG, arrives before a news conference to present the company's 2016 results in Basel, Switzerland January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified on Wednesday that Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG initially wanted him to lobby for the company when it retained him with a $1.2 million contract, but that Cohen refused.

“Novartis sent me their contract, which stated specifically that they wanted me to lobby. That they wanted me to provide access to government, including the president, ” Cohen said.

“That paragraph was crossed out by me, initialed, and written in my own handwriting that says I will not lobby or do government relations work,” he told members of the House Oversight Committee.

Novartis is one of several companies that paid Cohen through his firm Essential Consultants after Trump was elected in order to glean more insight into Trump’s administration.

When news of those payments came to light last year, the drugmaker’s ex-chief executive said the contract was a mistake and he should have tried to fire Cohen in March of 2017.

Cohen testified on Wednesday that he had offered Novartis in-person and telephone access “whenever they needed,” and estimated he spoke with the company about six times.

“Six times?! Wow! $200,000 a phone call,” Republican Congressman Mark Meadows replied.

Last year, former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez, who had co-signed the contract with Cohen alongside general counsel Felix Ehrat, said: “We wanted to terminate the contract at that point, but in the end we decided there would be almost-certain litigation.”

Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff, in an emailed statement on Wednesday, said the company “previously addressed all questions” regarding its relationship with Essential Consultants and considers the matter closed.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu in Washington; additional reporting by Deena Beasley; editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish