Top lawyer exits as Novartis seeks to quell Cohen backlash

Novartis general counsel steps down over drugmaker's $1.2 million contract with Michael Cohen

Novartis lawyer steps down over Trump lawyer payment

President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen offered to help Novartis AG get a grip on the US 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.

Felix Ehrat, the top lawyer at Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, has made a decision to step down from his role over the drugmaker's $1.2 million payment to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen for healthcare policy lobbying services.

In a statement he said: "Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error".

Ehrat said he hopes his departure will "bring the public debate on this matter to an end", but that might not happen any time soon.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she was paid $130,000 by Cohen to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.

On Wednesday, Novartis's general counsel Feliz Ehrat apologised for making the deal in the first place.

Ehrat's statement on Wednesday says he was a co-signatory on the contract with Cohen, along with the then-CEO of Novartis AG, who retired at the beginning of this year.

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Novartis' new CEO Vas Narasimhan has since admitted that the payments were a serious error, but has been careful to distance himself from the decision.

Jimenez told Bloomberg that Cohen had "oversold his abilities" in being able to explain the then-new Trump administration's position on healthcare issues.

Novartis ended the contract with Cohen, which paid out $100,000 a month, earlier this year. Rather than terminating the contract, Jimenez elected not to, because he anxious that ensuing litigation would cost more than paying out the contract would.

Jimenez said in the interview that a "third party" had recommended Cohen to Novartis, declining to identify that person.

Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels or knowing anything about that payment but his new lawyer Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged the U.S. president had in fact reimbursed Cohen for the payoff. Narasimhan was among the European executives Trump had dinner with in January at Davos, though Novartis said the current CEO was "in no way involved with this agreement". At one point he recommended that the company should build a manufacturing site in the USA but Novartis never acted on any of his advice, the ex-CEO added.

Novartis has said that Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, contacted them last November to inquire about the connection to Mr. Cohen, and that the company cooperated with the investigation and considers its role closed.

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