Novartis lawyer steps down over Trump lawyer payment

Michael Cohen

Novartis General Counsel Felix Ehrat will leave the company over his role in a $1.2 million contract the Swiss drugmaker struck with the lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, saying on Wednesday that it was legal but still an error. He will retire at the start of June, to be replaced by current Novartis ethics chief Shannon Thyme Klinger.

Novartis' general counsel Felix Ehrat will be replaced on June 1 by Shannon Thyme Klinger, who now works as the company's chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, according to the WSJ. "As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end", Ehrat said in a statement issued by the firm.

The Novartis ouster comes as AT&T forced its top Washington, D.C. executive into retirement last week, following fallout from revelations that the telecom giant paid Cohen $600,000 past year.

Novartis previously admitted to hiring Essential in February 2017 for advice "as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters".

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But executives weren't impressed by Cohen after their first meeting in March 2017, a month into the deal. But as we reported previously, the drug maker continued making payments - in $100,000 monthly installments - to avoid angering Trump. He said the company continued to pay him because it feared litigation over a premature termination of the agreement.

The Swiss company revealed last week (9 May) that it had paid Cohen's company Essential Consultants $1.2m for healthcare policy consulting work that he had proved "unable" to do.

According to Bloomberg, Jimenez's successor, Vas Narasimhan, has told Novartis's managers that the company needs to "rethink its approach to the use of consultants and lobbying firms".

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