Novartis general counsel resigns over deal with Trump lawyer

Novartis general counsel resigns over deal with Trump lawyer

May 17th, 2018 by Associated Press in Business Around the Region

FILE - In this April 26, 2018 file photo, Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York City. Porn actress Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti, said Monday, May 14, he did nothing wrong by distributing a report last week that detailed the finances of the president's personal attorney, Cohen, and showed he had charged companies a hefty price for "insight" about Trump. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Photo by Seth Wenig

GENEVA — Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis said Wednesday its top lawyer is stepping down over a deal to hire U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as a consultant.

The company said general counsel Felix Ehrat is retiring "in the context of discussions surrounding Novartis' former agreement with Essential Consultants, owned by Michael Cohen."

FILE - This Oct. 25, 2011 file photo shows the logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG on one of their buildings in Basel, Switzerland. According to results published Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, for the first time, a drug has helped prevent heart attacks by curbing inflammation, a new and very different approach than lowering cholesterol, which has been the main focus for decades. Canakinumab's maker, Novartis, sponsored the study. (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP, File)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error," Ehrat said in a statement, adding that he took "personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end."

Company spokesman Eric Althoff said last week Novartis had entered into a one-year agreement with Essential Consultants in February 2017 — a month after Trump's inauguration — to focus on health care policy.

Althoff said Novartis, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, had hired Cohen for $100,000 per month, but determined after a single meeting with him that he wouldn't be of use. The company still paid out the $1.2 million contract.

Novartis said Shannon Thyme Klinger, who graduated from the University of North Carolina law school and who is now the company's ethics, risk and compliance officer, will take over from Ehrat as general counsel on June 1. Ehrat had been in his post for about seven years.

The move comes five days after AT&T said its chief lobbyist was leaving the company after overseeing a $50,000-per-month contract for Cohen to serve as a consultant for a year.

In a memo to employees, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company made a "big mistake" in hiring Cohen as a consultant. While everything the company did was legal, Stephenson said the association with Cohen was "a serious misjudgment."

Stephenson noted that the company's reputation has been damaged and that the vetting process used by its team in Washington "clearly failed."

Stephenson said Bob Quinn, senior executive vice president of the external and legislative affairs group, "will be retiring."


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