Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — While some advocacy groups disagreed with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist‘s explanation on selling shares of HCA, his Republican colleagues believed he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal-oriented Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, said Sen. Frist, R-Tenn., has not addressed the timing of the sale of his HCA stock.
“His conflict of interest story is not believable because he has repeatedly for 12 years said it wasn’t an issue, and suddenly it is right before the stock drops,” said Mrs. Sloan, who previously worked on the staffs of congressional Democrats. “His explanations simply don’t ring true.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he can vouch for Sen. Frist’s honesty and integrity.
“Senator Frist is one of the most straightforward persons I have ever met,” Sen. Alexander said. “So far as I can tell, he asked what the rules were and followed those rules, and to me that is the end of it.”
Federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission are examining records pertaining to Sen. Frist’s June sale of his family’s stock holdings in HCA. The value of the Nashville-based company’s stock dropped about 9 percent about a month after Sen. Frist sold his shares.
HCA was founded by Sen. Frist’s family.
In his first public comments about the stock sale, Sen. Frist on Monday afternoon read a 500-word statement in which he said his only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest.
He said he instructed his staff to examine Senate rules regarding the stock sale in April.
“I had no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available when I directed the trustees to sell the stock,” he said.
“After obtaining pre-approval by mid-June from the Senate Ethics Committee, I issued a letter directing my trustees to sell any remaining HCA stock in my family’s trusts,” Sen. Frist said. “An examination of the facts will demonstrate that I acted properly.”
Carmen Balber with the liberal-oriented Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said she doesn’t understand why Sen. Frist waited so long to sell his stock shares.
“Either Senator Frist had a sudden change of heart or insider training occurred,” said Ms. Balber.
The National Journal reported that Ms. Balber’s group has opposed a medical malpractice bill limiting lawsuits that was authored by Sen. Frist.
Ms. Balber said Sen. Frist should not have been involved in medical legislation that could net HCA millions of dollars.
HCA owns a malpractice insurer, Health Care Indemnity, and Sen. Frist has
tried unsuccessfully to pass a medical liability overhaul bill, Congressional
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans remain loyal to Sen. Frist.
“We have taken a look at the situation and think he handled himself appropriately,” Sen. McConnell said.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against Sen. Frist with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics on Monday. Ms. Sloan said Sen. Frist should step down as majority leader during the inquiry.
Amy Call, Sen. Frist’s spokeswoman, said he has no plans to step down.
Sen. Frist is the first sitting majority leader whose actions have been investigated by the SEC, according to Senate historian Don Ritchie.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he will cooperate fully with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York as they gather documents related to his summer sale of a stock in HCA Inc.
E-mail Lee Pitts at [email protected]