Much like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose Justice Department prosecuted a woman for laughing during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price is not worried about looking thin-skinned.
Price defended the West Virginia capitol police on Wednesday, a day after they arrested a journalist for “aggressively” asking him a question.
“I want to commend the West Virginia Capitol police. They did what they felt was appropriate, and we thank them for the work that they do,” Price said during a press conference in New Hampshire. “It’s important to appreciate that gentleman was not in a press conference, we were walking down a hall and the Capitol police acted as they felt necessary.”
Public News Service reporter Dan Heyman was arrested after repeatedly asking Price if domestic violence is considered a preexisting condition under the Republican health-care bill that passed in the House last week. He was charged with willful disruption of governmental processes, a misdemeanor.
Heyman described the incident in an interview with Esquire on Wednesday. He said someone walking with Price and Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told him to stay back at one point, but he didn’t feel he was being unusually aggressive:
“I stood there and Secretary Price came in, and I started an audio recording on my phone, and held out my phone to him to try to get close enough to get his comments. I asked him the question of whether domestic violence would be a pre-existing condition that could result in the denial of insurance under Trumpcare. And he didn’t say anything, kept walking,” Heyman said. “So I asked him again and walked along with him on this corridor. At one point I sort of was moving through the entourage behind him, and somebody said, ‘Stay back, get away.’” Heyman kept going.
“I moved to the other side of the hallway, keeping up with this group as it moved to get another shot at asking this question. I think I asked him a total of three or four times. At some point, I was pulled aside by the capitol police,” he said. “I want to make clear—if you’re a daily reporter, I’m sure you’ve been involved in scrum situations where you’re trying to ask somebody a question. It was pretty much exactly like that. I was reaching over or between people, sort of leaning into the group, to try to get my cell phone close to him. But I wasn’t trying to get past people.”
Lawrence Messina, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told Esquire that Heyman wasn’t arrested for merely shouting a question at the secretary. “This individual physically tried to push his way past Secret Service agents who were here to provide for the safety and security of this event in the state capitol,” Messina said. “The agents actually pushed him away, and maybe more than once.”
As for why Heyman was arrested rather than just being removed from the area, Messina said that was a call made by capitol police who witnessed the incident. “I believe that they concluded this individual had crossed a line,” he said.
Heyman is facing a $100 fine and a maximum of six months in prison.