Politics

Senate Democrats Target Michael Cohen for ‘Selling Access’ to Trump

Former personal attorney to POTUS is key subject in Mueller investigation

Democratic senators criticized former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen for what one called his “side hustle as influencer-in-chief.” (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images file photo)

Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, is the target of a new report from Democratic senators who on Friday accused him of “selling access” to the White House through a shell company he formed during the 2016 election campaign.

The senators’ report is based on emails they obtained from Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, which signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, for “consulting and advisory services.”

Novartis voluntarily produced the emails to the senators.

The senators who released the report — Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Patty Murray — criticized Cohen, who has become an integral part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, for what Wyden dubbed his “side hustle as influencer-in-chief.”

“The sweetheart deals and backdoor promises documented in this report are a snapshot of Cohen’s multi-million dollar side hustle as influencer-in-chief,” the Oregon Democrat said in a statement.

“We still don’t know the kind of White House access Cohen was granting to undisclosed clients, or whether Cohen served as a foreign agent,” he said.

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, disputed that characterization of his client's business dealings.

“Mr. Cohen, who never introduced anyone from Novartis to anyone in the administration or Congress, did not ‘sell access.’ As a consultant, he provided strategic advice to his client,” Davis told ABC News.

The initial draft of the contract between Novartis and Cohen would have had the company pay Cohen to provide it with “access to key policymakers in the administration,” but Cohen scrubbed that language from the final draft.

The emails revealed that Novartis’ communications with Cohen were “longer and more detailed than previously disclosed by the company,” which sought to distance itself from the New York-based attorney after media outlets reported Cohen had paid $130,000 through Essential Consultants to adult film actress and director Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006.

In May, the Swiss drug company said in a statement that it had “decided not to engage” with Cohen after meeting with him once in the spring of 2017 and later determining that his services were not worthwhile.

“Michael Cohen was somebody who was introduced to us, and he was unknown to us, but he was said to be somebody who could help,” former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez said in May. “After my team met with him individually, it was clear that he oversold his abilities.”

But Jimenez had multiple email exchanges and at least four phone calls with Cohen from April to September 2017. In one of those exchanges, Jimenez provided Cohen with a six-point plan on drug prices and costs.

Cohen told Jimenez that a friend of his with experience in the pharmaceutical industry had an upcoming meeting with Trump officials and that Novartis’ plans were “a great beginning.”

If Cohen ever communicated with Trump or other government officials about policy issues pertaining to Essential Consulting’s clients — Novartis; AT&T; Korea Aerospace Industries; and Columbus Nova, a private investment firm with ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg — federal law mandates that he would have needed to register as a lobbyist.

Correction, 12:40 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.

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