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Novartis Lawyer Out; Fallout From Michael Cohen Payments Raises Critical Questions

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

WASHINGTON - Note: The top lawyer for Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis stepped down today after last week’s revelations that Novartis made payments to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. The Novartis announcement follows AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson calling Cohen’s hiring by his company “a big mistake.” A South Korean firm also paid $150,000 to the shell company run by Cohen as it also sought business from the U.S. government.

If the Novartis and AT&T payments to Michael Cohen were nothing more than ill-advised efforts to gain insight into the operations of the newly elected Trump administration, then it seems unlikely the revelation of those payments would have led to the ouster of AT&T’s top lobbyist and Novartis’ general counsel.

The reason for the immense attention on these payments is the sense from experts and the public alike that it sure seems like something fishy was going on.

Today’s resignation of Novartis’ general counsel should fuel rather than tamp down that suspicion. Based on news accounts of what Novartis and AT&T sought from Cohen, Public Citizen has filed a request for an investigation with the U.S. Department of Justice and Congress as to whether Cohen should have and failed to register as a lobbyist and/or a foreign agent.

But what should be front and center in the ongoing scrutiny and investigations into these payments is: Were Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace expecting specific favors from the Trump administration in exchange for their payments? In other words, were they making illegal bribery payments?

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