Sunday, March 19, 2017

Investigators Getting too Close — Strategy: Fire Them, CYA, and PR Dodgeball

Preet: Thanks for Agreeing to Stay On. Great. Well, I Changed My Mind

 Always a Middle Man

Trump fires great investigative attorney Preet Bharara (U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York). What was he investigating and what has been his overall track (In a single word: Great!!!).
This story: Bharara was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week. He had been overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the HHS Secretary Tom Price (former Rep. from GA) according to a person familiar with Bharara’s office.
Price came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress from Georgia. He traded shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting that industry. Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. 
Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the SEC, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.
The investigation of Price’s trades hadn’t been previously disclosed was still underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal. 
FYI: Bharara is one of 46 Federal attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office since it is a rather routine practice and standard for a new president to replace those officials with their own appointees.
In Bharara’s case, however, his firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election and Bharara as he left that meeting, told reporters Mr. Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and Bharara said he agreed to stay on.
Then the Trump administration (“We need a clean slate” so said Bannon and Sessions some reports say) instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and then shortly thereafter, he was fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.
Bharara tweeted: “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.”
Bharara was referring to that commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. 
In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.
Bharara's overall record on illegal stock trading and Wall Street is impressive (He is 79-0 for convictions, with 58 sentenced, and the others waiting).

Bharara’s office and the DOJ and HHS departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment, plus a White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades and the investigation.
Background: Last December, the WSJ reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while at the same time taking actions that could have affected those companies since Price at the time, and an orthopedic surgeon, was the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee and he also sat on the Ways and Means Health Sub-Committee.
In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immuno-Therapeutics 2013 a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process. FYI: Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA for approval.
ProPublica reported that Price’s office took up the causes of the health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO had donated to Price’s election campaign.
As far as Innate Immuno-Therapeutics; their CEO Simon Wilkinson, told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and had no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades with them.
Another Price transaction that drew scrutiny was his purpose in 2016 of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet. Note: Price stated that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker – how likely is that one wonders?
As reported by Time magazine Price also invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading an effort (a House bill and PR campaign that killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those six companies.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades writing: “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge.”
What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is still not known.
Noteworthy: In addition to the Price stock investigation, as stated above, Bharara’s office was also investigating allegations relating to FOX News that had been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business.
Finally, Bharara’s former deputy, Joon H. Kim, is in charge of the office, but … he is expected to be replaced by Trump real soon. Oops.
My Assessment:
1.  Preet Bharara was in the middle of open investigation of HHS Secretary Tom Price. Trump fires Bharara. Trump to put in one of his own.
2.  Bharara’s #2, attorney Joon H. Kim, now in charge. Trump ready to replace him, too, and put in one of his own.
3.  Do I detect a pattern here, maybe a coincidence, or just events that all new administrations do when they take over - fire people in the middle of a key investigation?
4.  So, will new Trump appointees shut down the Price investigation? That is the key question isn't it? Think about that for a minute – okay, times up.
5.  Finally, memo for Price:  Whew, boy. Safe for now, um? 
Stay tuned - I suspect this is not over yet.

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