A team of Senate Democrats is demanding answers and information from two companies that paid President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen “substantial payments” through a shell company while both had business pending before the administration.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) authored May 14 letters questioning the CEOs of AT&T and Novartis. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) signed on to the AT&T letter.
Senators’ questions for Novartis and AT&T
Among the questions the senators asked Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan:
Which individuals at Novartis discussed, arranged, and approved the contract with Essential Consultants?
Explain Novartis’s decision to consider Essential Consultants and the determination that Mr. Cohen was qualified to advise on healthcare policy matters?
Why did Novartis determine after a single meeting that “Essential Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated?” Specifically, what information became known to Novartis at that meeting that was not, or could not have been, known before entering the contract? Which individuals at Novartis made this determination?
Why did Novartis enter a $1.2 million contract that could only be terminated for cause? Is this a typical arrangement for Novartis contracts for lobbying or public policy advice?
When Novartis signed the contract, or during the term of the contract, did the company at any time make a determination of whether the relationship with, and payments to, Mr. Cohen were required to be reported to the FEC, any other campaign finance officials, or any other federal or state authorities?
Did any Novartis official believe, or have reason to believe, that any payments made to Mr. Cohen would be provided, in full or in part, to President Trump or to any legal entity in which he or his immediate family had an ownership interest?
Provide a complete, unredacted copy of the contract. Provide any Novartis guidance document outlining the internal approval process for entering into agreements like the one the company entered with Essential Consultants.
The letter to Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, covered similar territory:
Which individuals at AT&T discussed, arranged, and approved the contract with Essential Consultants?
“A Jan. 12, 2017, pool report from Trump Tower shows that you entered Trump Tower at 9:13 a.m. alongside Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president of external and legislative affairs. The same pool report shows that Michael Cohen entered Trump Tower just eight minutes earlier at 9:05 a.m. Did you, Mr. Quinn, or any other AT&T executives meet with Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump or any other executives of the Trump Organization on Jan. 12? If so, did any of those discussions involve a potential work by, or a contract with, Essential Consultants and Mr. Cohen?”
Explain AT&T’s decision to consider Essential Consultants and the determination that Mr. Cohen was qualified to advise on policy matters?
Did AT&T, or any of its affiliates, have any contractual relationship or pay any funds to any other entity or individual affiliated with, associated with, or represented by Mr. Cohen?
According to AT&T’s statement, the company paid “several consultants to help us understand how the President and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company.” Provide a complete list of all consultants that the company paid for this purpose, the amount paid, the date of payment, and the duration of the contacts.
List every policy issue for which Mr. Cohen provided, or had agreed to provide, consultant or other services.
The letter also asks the company to provide any AT&T guidance document outlining the internal approval process for entering into agreements like the one entered with Essential Consultants.
Source: Joe Mont
“Given these ongoing and significant matters, the unusual series of payments to the President’s personal attorney raise obvious questions about corruption and whether” AT&T, Novartis, Essential Consultants, and the Trump Administration “were engaged in a pay-for-play operation,” the senators wrote.
The letters highlight reporting suggesting that AT&T paid Cohen as much as $600,000 while the company had financial interest in the Department of Justice’s decision to contest its proposed merger with Time Warner.
Novartis allegedly had a single meeting with Cohen and decided that he could not provide the services needed, but then continued to pay him a total of $1.2 million in installments.
Both sets of payments were made to a limited liability company that was reportedly established, at least in part, to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels for her silence regarding an alleged affair with Trump.
Citing “the serious corruption concerns raised by the payments,” the senators submitted a series of questions to both CEOs, requesting information about how the contracts with Cohen were approved, the terms of the arrangements, if the companies requested any contacts between Cohen and Trump, and whether the companies believed that any of the payments would go to entities benefiting Trump or his family.
The letter to Dr. Vasant Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, challenges the idea of entering into a contract with Cohen that could only be terminated for cause, while payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018.
“If this statement is fully accurate, it appears to detail a stunningly irresponsible turn of events,” the letter says. “These payments were made despite Mr. Cohen’s lack of experience and lack of knowledge about healthcare or regulatory policy.”
“Novartis made these payments while it had numerous matters relating to health care policy before the Trump Administration and Congress,” the senators added. “Given these ongoing matters, the unusual series of payments.by Novartis to the President’s personal attorney raise obvious questions about corruption and whether Novartis and the Trump administration were engaged in a pay-for-play operation.”
The letter presents a series of questions and data requests. The senators seek responses to by May 25.
Both AT&T and Novartis issued apologies in the aftermath of the news emerging that they had worked with Cohen, and senior executives at both companies have stepped down as a result. Senior executive vice president Bob Quinn, who ran AT&T’s Washington office, retired late last week and Novartis general counsel Felix Ehrat walked away from the company on Wednesday.