Trump Team Pushes Back on HHS Nominee‘s Stock Trading Issue

Rep. Tom Price is criticized for investments he made while working on health policy

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., was nominated to be Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., was nominated to be Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:35pm

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is disputing a recent report that raised questions about whether Rep. Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, violated insider trading laws while serving in Congress.

A Monday CNN report revealed that Price bought shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device company, in March. Price introduced a bill delaying a regulation that could have damaged the company less than a week after the purchase. CNN also reported that the company’s political action committee also donated to Price’s re-election campaign.

But Trump team is pushing back on the notion that Price used his position as a member of Congress to inform his trades on the stock market, which is illegal. 

[ Drug Stock Trades of Trump Health Secretary Pick Draw Criticism

Trump Transition Spokesman Phil Blando called the CNN story “junk reporting.”

“Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false,” Blando said in a statement. “The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal media allies cannot abide the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation.”

The transition is arguing that the decision to purchase the stock was made by a broker, not Price, and the purchase was part of a broader rebalancing of his portfolio. According to Price’s periodic transaction report from April 2016, the purchase of Zimmer Biomet shares occurred on March 17, but Price was notified of the transaction on April 4. Nearly 70 transactions also occurred on March 17.

Price purchased between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of the company’s stock that day. According to Price’s financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, the shares in the company are part of a broader brokerage account with Morgan Stanley. 

Schumer Seeks Inquiry Into HHS Nominee’s Health Stock Trades ]

But the CNN report has raised more concerns among Senate Democrats ahead of Price’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Wednesday. As a nominee, Price must also sit before the Senate Finance Committee.

Schumer questioned the Trump team’s explanation that a broker decided to buy the stock.

“If [Price] knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law,” Schumer told CNN Tuesday. “Now they say there’s a broker; it’s kind of strange that this broker would pick this stock totally independently of him introducing legislation that’s so narrow and specific to this company.”

Schumer reiterated calls for the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Price’s stock trading before he is confirmed to lead Health and Human Services. Senate Democrats have been pushing for an investigation into Price’s other sizable investments in biomedical companies while working on health policy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the report “pretty concerning.” He said given the Trump team’s vow to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption, the president-elect and his staff have a “unique obligation” to explain what Price did and his motivations.

Earnest said the description of Price’s actions appears to embody why many people feel Washington does not work for them. Whether Price pushed the bill to benefit his personal finances, campaign coffers or simply because he thought it was solid legislation is “an open question.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.