Bush, Frist: Two peas in an insider trading pod?

Like the president before him, the Senate majority leader finds himself subject to questions about a suspiciously well timed sale of stock.

Published September 21, 2005 5:20PM (EDT)

George W. Bush and Bill Frist share an interest in kowtowing to the lesser angels of the religious right, but we're learning today that they've got something else in common, too: Both men have profited from highly questionable business dealings.

The right spent the better part of the 1990s screaming about Hillary Clinton's investments in cattle futures, but you don't hear a lot these days about Bush's suspiciously timed and belatedly reported sale of stock from Harken Energy. And amid the clamor over Katrina, Rita and John G. Roberts, allegations about Frist's remarkably well-timed sale of stock in his family's health care business aren't likely to dominate anybody's news cycle.

But before this one gets blown off by whatever's coming next, let's take a moment to review the case against the Senate majority leader. According to a report in Nashville's Tennessean, Frist sold his stock in HCA, Inc., the hospital chain his family founded, just before the stock took a healthy dive in July. Although Frist's stock was held in a blind trust, his spokeswoman says that he directed the trust on June 13 to sell the stock in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest on health-related issues. She said that Frist learned that his stock had been sold on July 1 and that stock belonging to his wife and children had been sold on July 8. On July 13, the Tennessean says, HCA warned shareholders that second-quarter earnings would be lower than expected. On July 14, the company's shares fell 8.8 percent.

Although Frist has apparently never worked for HCA, his father, Thomas Frist, founded the company in 1968, and his brother, Thomas Frist Jr., is still its largest shareholder, the Tennessean says. It's not clear how much HCA stock Frist and his immediate family held; according to the Associated Press, he reported earlier this year that his blind trust held assets valued at between $7 million and $35 million.

This isn't the first time that Frist's connection to HCA has been a source of embarrassment for him. In 2000, HCA agreed to pay more than $95 million to settle criminal fraud charges after having already paid out $745 million in civil fines and penalties related to an alleged conspiracy to defraud government health care programs by paying kickbacks to doctors and submitting false bills. At the time, the criminal fraud settlement was the largest in U.S. history.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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