(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen offered to help Novartis AG get a grip on the U.S. administration’s position on key health-care issues before an agreement with the Swiss drugmaker quickly turned sour, former Chief Executive Officer Joe Jimenez said.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Jimenez said Cohen told him that he had left Trump’s organization and had stopped working for the president before pitching for business with Novartis. The former chief broke his silence after revelations last week that the company had paid $1.2 million to Cohen’s consulting firm.
“Michael Cohen was somebody who was introduced to us, and he was unknown to us, but he was said to be somebody who could help,” Jimenez said. “After my team met with him individually, it was clear that he oversold his abilities.”
Novartis was drawn into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election after it signed a one-year agreement with Cohen’s firm. The company has said it quickly determined that Cohen’s business would be unable to provide the services it anticipated and decided not to engage further, but was contractually bound to keep making monthly payments of $100,000.
Jimenez spoke a day after his successor, Vas Narasimhan, conducted a conference call for 5,000 Novartis managers in which he said the company needs to rethink its approach to the use of consultants and lobbying firms, according to a person familiar with the situation. Narasimhan is preparing to meet investors at an event Wednesday in Novartis’s hometown of Basel.
Cohen came under investigation by federal prosecutors after arranging a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to keep her from disclosing an alleged sexual relationship with Trump.
Jimenez, who handed the reins to Narasimhan this year, said the contract with Cohen was negotiated with the company’s legal team after the two sides made contact. The former CEO said he wanted to terminate the deal but ultimately decided that trying to end it would have been costlier than letting the agreement expire because of “almost certain litigation,” he said.
“That was the mistake,” he said. “We should have just definitively parted ways with this guy as soon as we knew he was not going to be a help.”
A “third party” recommended Cohen to Novartis, Jimenez said, declining to identify that person. Novartis should have done more due diligence, he said. Jimenez said he never met Cohen in person.
Cohen said he could bring “his expertise in terms of knowing the personalities that were in the administration,” Jimenez said. “He said working in a group we should be able to accomplish what you need to accomplish -- which is, how would the administration react to certain proposals. That’s where he was not able to deliver.”
Cohen said he wouldn’t be providing any lobbying services, Jimenez said. At one point he recommended that the company should build a manufacturing site in the U.S. but Novartis never acted on any of his advice, the ex-CEO added. He never provided any access to anyone in the administration, he said.
After the election, drug companies proactively sought to develop policy proposals amid a commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Jimenez said. The people named to key positions in the administration were “pretty unknown” to most of the company’s main consultants in Washington, he said.
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