President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services insisted before a Senate panel Wednesday that he has followed the law when trading stocks and did not have access to any non-public information when doing so.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) told members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that he learned of company Innate Immunotherapeutics from colleague Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), researched the company on his own, and decided to purchase shares.
Asked by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) whether anything Collins told him could be considered a stock tip, Price replied “I don’t believe so, no.”
Price told Murray, the ranking member on the HELP Committee, that he made the decision to purchase shares on his own. Later in the hearing, Price clarified that he instructed a broker to purchase the shares, but the broker was the agent who completed the transaction. He made the first purchase at market price, and later purchased shares at a lower price available to individuals participating in a private placement offering, he said.
“What happened was that he mentioned, he talked about the company and the work that they were doing. … I studied the company for a period of time and felt that it had some significant merit and promise and purchased the initial shares on the stock exchange,” he said.
Murray said Price’s stock trading actions while serving as a senior member of Congress and working on related legislation was not appropriate.
“I believe it’s inappropriate, and we need answers to this regarding whether you and Congressman Collins used your access to non-public information when you bought at prices that were unavailable to the public,” Murray said.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said Price had not avoided the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The Georgia Republican has served six terms in the House, and before that he led a practice as an orthopedic surgeon. In recent weeks, Price has been the subject of an ethics controversy surrounding his stock trades while serving in the House. Democrats have called for Office of Congressional Ethics investigations into Price, and unsuccessfully called to delay hearings until such an investigation was complete.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested Price could have broken the law with his medical stock trades, after CNN reported that Price purchased up to $15,000 dollars in stocks days before introducing legislation that would affect the company. Republicans have come to Price’s defense, saying he acted ethically by working with a broker and properly disclosed information about his shares in compliance with congressional rules.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the attacks on Price “hypocritical,” noting that other members of the HELP Committee that also traded stocks while serving in Congress.
Price said he plans to divest from dozens of companies in which he holds stocks, in accordance with recommendations from the Office of Government Ethics to avoid actual or appearances of conflicts of interest.
“Everything that we have done has been above board, transparent, ethical, and legal,” Price said, when asked by Hatch to confirm that he has always followed the law.
Update: This story has been updated with additional comments from the hearing after initial publication.