WASHINGTON -- ProPublica is out with an eye-popping story this afternoon.
The nonprofit journalism outlet is reporting that former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating the stock trades of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price when the White House fired him last week.
The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.
Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.
For the duration of his Senate confirmation process, Price was unable to kick stories about his stock trades as a Georgia congressman. Several news outlets, including this one, reported that Price traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares of health-related companies while he was serving on House committees that had jurisdiction over the policy area.
That in itself is not illegal, but ethics watchdogs Senate Democrats raised questions about whether the trades ran aground of congressional ethics laws that bar lawmakers from trading stocks based off nonpublic information acquired through their jobs.
Of particular interest were his trades in the Australian tech company Innate Immunotherapeutics. Price had purchased $10,000 in stock in January 2015 and later that year invested between $50,000 and $100,000 — days after colleague Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who was on the company's board of directors, purchased ten times that amount.
Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Georgia Democratic Party, said if Bharara was indeed fired because of an investigation into price, "Americans have a right to know."
"Americans deserve better than an HHS Secretary who uses his public office for self-enrichment while pushing a plan to take health care away from 24 million Americans," Smith said.
Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who was among the Senate's loudest voices against Price, said there should be a "full investigation of whether Tom Price used his public position for personal profit."
A spokesman for Price did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his conflict-of-interest agreement with the federal Office of Government Ethics, Price promised to sell his medical stocks.