At an initial Senate hearing for Health and Human Services secretary appointee Tom Price, amid highly complex discussions of health-care policy, Democrats kept patiently chipping away at Price’s explanation of an ethics controversy surrounding him: Did he as a member of the House deliberately and based on insider knowledge buy stock in an Australian biotech firm that was likely to benefit from legislation the House could consider?
Going into the hearing, the position of the Trump transition office was that Price’s stockbroker made the purchase without his knowledge. First, Health Committee Democrats got him to admit the purchase was not from some purely broker-directed account. Then Patty Murray grabbed him by the throat:
“You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker. Yes or no?” Murray asked at Price’s confirmation hearing.
“That was a decision that I made, yes,” Price said.
Price had earlier told Murray he found out about the company — but allegedly not about the stock — from a colleague, Republican New York Representative Chris Collins. So Murray sprung the trap:
“Well, Congressman Chris Collins, who sits on President-elect Trump’s transition team, is both an investor and a board member of the company,” Murray said. “He was reportedly overheard just last week off the House floor bragging about how he had made people millionaires from a stock tip.”
Price is, of course, heatedly denying anything other than a coincidental investment in the biotech company that did not affect his long-standing views on legislation affecting it. But that may not be enough, as Paul Blumenthal reports:
Ethics experts stated that Price could be in violation of the STOCK Act, a bipartisan 2012 law that bans insider trading by members of Congress, if he received nonpublic information from Collins or others prior to purchasing Innate Immunotherapeutics shares.
Norm Eisen, the former top ethics adviser to President Barack Obama, said, “I think it raises very serious questions under the STOCK Act and the House Ethics rules. I think that we need to know what was said in those communications.”
Maybe the Finance Committee can check into this. In the meantime, the belief of some Democrats that Price was one Cabinet nominee who might not make it through the Senate just became much more credible.