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Frist sale worth SEC scrutiny Take him at his innocent word, but double-check every assertion

With all the corporate scandals that undermined businesses, executives and politicians of late, it's hard to believe that powerful Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist would be foolish enough to use insider information to unload shares of a family business. No one can be that careless, right?

Nevertheless, the timing of Frist's sale is dubious, coming just before a warning that earnings had weakened at HCA Inc., the nation's largest hospital chain. Given that, and the stiff sentences meted out to such financial transgressors as Martha Stewart and John J. Rigas, the investigation announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission is entirely appropriate.

Frist denies wrongdoing. He points out that the stocks were in a blind trust and says he had no company information that was not available to the public. He says he is cooperating with SEC investigators. That's the right approach. As Frist undoubtedly knows, it was Stewart's dissembling as much as the stock sale that did her in. A policy of openness is best for him.

Still, this thing walks like a duck. If he has joined the ranks of wealthy stock manipulators, the political and legal price tag should be steep. We hope this is just a coincidence. The country doesn't need to lose any more confidence in its government.

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