Are they feeling a little jittery in Frist's office, too?

The majority leader's chief of staff goes ballistic on a reporter who asks about Frist's suspiciously timed stock sales.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 14, 2005 7:44PM (EST)

If Bill Frist has nothing to hide when it comes to his suspiciously timed sales of stock in his family's healthcare company, why did his chief of staff come unglued on a reporter who dared to ask about the issue during a briefing with Frist Tuesday?

That's the question raised by a Roll Call report on the incident. Roll Call says a young Associated Press reporter named Jonathan Katz put a question to Frist Tuesday that seemed to challenge the majority leader's claim that he didn't know how much his stock in HCA was worth at the time he sold it. Frist appeared rattled, reporters who were there told Roll Call, and he danced around that question and another about the stock sale before announcing that he wouldn't take any more on the issue.

That was that, at least until the session with Frist ended. At that point, Roll Call says, Frist chief of staff Eric Ueland, normally known as a mild-mannered kind of guy, approached Katz and unloaded on him. Reporters who watched the exchange say that Ueland "berated" and "bullied" the reporter, accused him of not understanding the issue and generally "went over the line" by "dressing the guy down" in front of a couple of dozen other reporters.

"It was outrageous," a reporter who was there tells Roll Call. Ueland "was yelling at the kid. And Eric is usually a very calm and cool guy."

If the goal of the outburst was to push reporters away from the story of Frist's stock sales, it doesn't seem to have worked. "Now everyone's talking about it," one veteran reporter tells Roll Call. "Now I'm wondering if he's gotten another subpoena. It makes me think there's something going on."

Tim Grieve

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

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