Senator questions drug company's payment to Trump attorney

Senator questions drug company's payment to Trump attorney
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee says he is opening an investigation into Michael Cohen, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE’s personal attorney, and his relationship with the pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Novartis this week acknowledged that it signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen in 2017. The company said it hired Cohen to advise them on health policy matters.

Novartis said it only met with Cohen once, and when the copmany realized he couldn’t deliver what they expected, they let the contract lapse. 

But in a letter sent to Novartis on Friday, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats press for action on election security Interior gains new watchdog On The Money: NY prosecutors subpoena eight years of Trump tax returns | Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms | Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum | Trump faces dwindling leverage with China MORE (D-Ore.) suggested the payments to Novartis may be linked to Kymriah, the company's breakthrough cancer drug that was being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Wyden noted the company at the time was also negotiating with Medicare on how federal health programs would pay for the drug, which costs nearly half a million dollars.

“The Senate Finance Committee has a duty to ensure that pharmaceutical companies providing services to federal health plans are conducting business in a legal and transparent manner,” Wyden wrote to Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan.

A spokesman for Novartis told The Hill “we anticipated this letter which we received and plan to fully cooperate.”

When Kymriah was approved in August 2017, the FDA hailed it as a “historic action.” The company faced backlash over the $475,000 price tag, but it essentially came with a money-back guarantee for the federal government — Novartis would only be reimbursed by Medicare if patients responded to it after the first month of treatment.

Wyden asked Novartis for copies of all communication between the company and Cohen’s firm, as well as details about the payments and contract. He also asked for all internal communications about Cohen, as well external communications between lobbyists, the White House and other government agencies related to Cohen.

Wyden sent a similar letter to Cohen, and also asked the Treasury Department for financial information related to suspicious activity reports on Cohen, his firm Essential Consultants LLC and Novartis.

“Novartis paid Mr. Cohen hundreds of thousands dollars more than it paid its big-shot lobbyists in Washington,” Wyden said in a statement. “The American public needs to know who at the company signed off on this scheme and what were they expecting in return.

"Drug prices are already out of reach for too many American families, and drug companies need to be held accountable if they are breaking the law.”