The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced Wednesday that a top lawyer who co-signed a $1.2 million contract to hire President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was stepping down in June.
Felix R. Ehrat, group general counsel of Novartis, is retiring “in the context of discussions surrounding Novartis’ former agreement with Essential Consultants, owned by Michael Cohen,” the company said.
The contract has been a major embarrassment for one of the world’s largest drug companies, and its chief executive Vasant Narasimhan called it a mistake at an event Wednesday with investors and analysts at the company’s global headquarters in Basel.
“We also have made mistakes recently and the world rightly expects more from a leading healthcare company,” Narasimhan said. “Our new executive team and I have a deep commitment to ensure we always operate with the highest integrity and sound judgment and will work hard to rebuild lasting trust with society.”
The announcement comes days after AT&T’s chief executive Randall Stephenson said the top official in the company’s Washington office was leaving over a consulting deal with Cohen. In a memo to staff, Stephenson said the agreement to pay $600,000 to Cohen was a “big mistake.”
In February 2017, Novartis entered into a year-long, $1.2 million contract with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and his company Essential Consultants.
The company has said Cohen promised insights into how the administration would work and approach health policy matters, such as the Affordable Care Act.
The contract was initiated by Novartis’ former chief executive, Joe Jimenez, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although the company decided after its first meeting, in March, not to pursue the relationship, Novartis said it continued paying $100,000 a month to Cohen, because the contract could not be terminated.
“Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error,” Ehrat said in a statement. “As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end.”
Jimenez has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Jörg Reinhardt, chairman of the board of directors, said he appreciated Ehrat’s decision, “even as we regret his departure. We thank him for his contributions to the company as General Counsel.”
The company has declined to make the contract available, unleashing speculation about what specific issues the company might have sought to discuss with the Trump administration.
Last year, Novartis received approval for a novel cancer therapy priced at $475,000, that uses patients’ genetically altered cells to fight disease.
“We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us,” Novartis chief executive Vasant Narasimhan wrote in an email to employees last week.