Novartis CEO tells employees 'we made a mistake' in making deal with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen

Key Points
  • Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan sent an internal email to employees after the pharmaceutical giant revealed it paid the company of President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, $1.2 million.
  • "We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us," Narasimhan wrote.
  • In a Wednesday statement, Novartis said it entered a one-year agreement with Cohen for guidance on how the Trump administration would approach health-care policy issues.
Novartis CEO says 'we made a mistake' on Cohen payment

Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan told employees in an internal memo Thursday that "yesterday was not a good day" for the company, after the pharmaceutical giant revealed that it paid $1.2 million to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Narasimhan said "we made a mistake" in entering a contract in February 2017 with Cohen through his company, Essential Consultants, for guidance "as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters."

"As a consequence, [we] are being criticized by a world that expects more from us," Narasimhan said in the internal email, which was obtained by CNBC.

The CEO's message was first reported by health-care news outlet STAT.

White House responds to Cohen payments story

In a statement Wednesday, Novartis said that the one-year agreement, for which Essential Consultants was paid $100,000 per month, "predated Vas Narasimhan becoming Novartis CEO and he was in no way involved with this agreement."

Novartis also said in the statement that it had been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller's office in November 2017 regarding the agreement.

Payments from Novartis to Cohen's company were first alleged in an explosive report from lawyer Michael Avenatti, whose client, porn star Stormy Daniels, is suing Trump and Cohen to void a nondisclosure deal that bars her from discussing an alleged affair.

Avenatti's report claimed Novartis had paid Essential Consultants nearly $400,000; in the Wednesday statement, Novartis revealed that it had paid $1.2 million to Cohen's company.

Read Narasimhan's full email below:

"Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday was not a good day for Novartis. Many of you will have seen media reports regarding Novartis' relationship with Essential Consultants in the United States and many of you will feel disappointed and frustrated. You can read our full statement here. We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us.

Personally and for my family, it was also a difficult day, as unfounded stories spread through the US news. While I was not involved with any aspect of this situation, the facts did not matter. I went to sleep frustrated and tired.

But I woke up this morning full of determination. Determined to fight for the transformative medicines we create and the patients we serve. Determined to fight for this company I deeply love. Determined to fight for all of you so you continue to feel proud, inspired and empowered to transform the health of the world every day. This moment will pass and we will learn. Our medicines however will endure for generations.

What defines us now is as how we respond to this difficult situation. I look to you to remain resilient and keep your focus on serving patients. Together we will respond by continuing our work to profoundly impact human health. Please focus on that noble purpose in this difficult moment — bending the curve of life.