WASHINGTON – Two Senate Democrats Wednesday asked the U.S. attorney general to guarantee that any investigation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will continue despite President Trump's firing of Preet Bharara, the New York U.S. attorney who was reported to be leading the probe.
ProPublica reported earlier this month that Bharara's office had been investigating stock trades that Price made while serving as a member of the House from Georgia. Price made several investments over the years that Democrats have questioned, including the purchase of stock in an obscure Australian biotech firm at the recommendation of Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
There are no indications that Collins is being investigated, but the senators who wrote the letter – Patty Murray of Washington state and Ron Wyden of Oregon – said they were concerned that Collins gave Price a stock tip.
"Aside from questions about whether Dr. Price used his seat in Congress to benefit companies whose stock he owned, his decision to invest in Australian pharmaceutical company Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited (Innate) remains particularly troubling," the senators wrote in their letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "Serious questions remain about whether Dr. Price was privy to information not available to the general public, given his communications with Representative Chris Collins, who is Innate’s largest shareholder and a member of its board of directors."
The Democrats' letter drew an angry response from Collins' spokesman, Michael McAdams.
“Without merit or fact, these Democrat Senators refuse to give up their partisan witch hunt," McAdams said. "Instead of chasing shadows and advancing their extreme far left agenda, it's time they get to work and help address the challenges facing the American people. The fact is Congressman Collins has not been contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or anyone associated with the Justice Department."
Trump fired Bharara – a prosecutor responsible for bringing public corruption cases against several top New York politicians – earlier this month after first promising to keep him on the job. ProPublica's report on Bharara's investigation of Price followed Bharara's firing.
"We seek your assurance that the removal of Mr. Bharara’s – or any other U.S. Attorney – will not obstruct any investigation into these matters," Murray and Price said in their letter to Sessions.
Price endured withering criticism from Democrats during his confirmation hearings. Democratic senators repeatedly questioned his stock trades – especially those involving Collins – charging that Price profited from inside information.
After learning about Innate from Collins, Price bought about 61,000 shares of Innate stock in January 2015. Price bought another 400,000 shares of Innate stock last summer at discount prices offered through two private stock placements.
Price initially undervalued those shares in his public financial disclosures. On Feb. 7, he acknowledged that his Innate shares were worth about five times more than he had originally said they were worth.
The stock's value had skyrocketed since Price bought his shares, and after Congress passed legislation that Price and Collins pushed that could make it easier for companies like Innate to bring their products to the market.
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