Outgoing White House press secretary Josh Earnest tore into President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for health and human services secretary, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, amid a report that the Republican congressman bought stock in a medical company, then introduced legislation that would have directly benefited the company.
“Given the incoming administration’s priority that is placed on draining the swamp, I think they have a unique obligation to explain exactly what happened,” Earnest told reporters at his final press briefing Tuesday.
“Because the facts of the report don’t appear to be quite complicated. You have a member of Congress buying stock in a company and then, within a week, sponsoring legislation that would benefit that company and its stock price, only to see that legislation followed shortly thereafter by a political donation from that company to the campaign of that member of Congress in question.”
On Monday, CNN reported reported that Price bought between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of shares in medical device maker Zimmer Biomet last year before introducing legislation that could have shielded the company by delaying regulations on spending on joint replacements for Medicare patients. The company’s political action committee subsequently contributed to Price’s reelection campaign.
The report prompted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for an investigation of Price.
“If he knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law,” Schumer told CNN. “This is a very narrow, specific company that dealt with implants — hip and knee — and the legislation specifically affects implants. He puts it in a week after he buys the stock? That cries out for an investigation.”
A representative for Price told CNN that the stock was purchased by a broker without Price’s knowledge.
Schumer didn’t necessarily buy that explanation.
“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 said.
Earnest didn’t either.
“This doesn’t seem like a complicated scheme,” he said. “This seems like exactly the kind of financial entanglement that’s left a lot of people feeling alienated from Washington, D.C., that’s left a lot of people questioning the motives of members of Congress. Was he sponsoring that legislation because of his own personal motive, his own personal financial interest? Was he sponsoring that legislation because he knew it would likely lead to a political contribution? Or was he sponsoring that bill because he thought it was good policy?”
On Wednesday, Price is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, where he’ll undoubtedly face similar questions from Senate Democrats.
“This is why Congress has a responsibility to offer advice and consent for the president’s Cabinet nominations,” Earnest said. “And I suspect this is an issue that is going to receive careful scrutiny.”
In December, after Price was announced as Trump’s pick, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price had traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies in the past four years.
On Tuesday, Time magazine reported that in 2016 Price invested as much as $90,000 in six other pharmaceutical companies “shortly before leading a legislative and public relations effort that benefited those specific companies.”
Price spokesman Phil Blando told Time that the lawmaker’s trades were conducted via “a broker-directed account without his input or knowledge” and that Price only knew of the trades “after the fact.”
Last week, Price announced that he would divest himself from 43 companies — including Zimmer Biomet — within 90 days of his confirmation.
Read more from Yahoo News: