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Democrats want ethics probe into HHS secretary nominee Tom Price

A report alleged Price traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies during his time in Congress

Washington CNN  — 

Senate Democrats are calling on the House Office of Congressional Ethics to launch an investigation into Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, to probe the congressman’s financial investments and stock holdings.

“We are here to call on the House Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate if any laws were broken,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference. “There’s enough evidence here that cries out for an investigation. Whether the law was actually broken, whether there was quid pro quos or inside information is the better way to put it – we don’t know.”

Schumer was joined by fellow Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, each a top Democrat on two separate Senate committees set to hold confirmation hearings on Price.

The announcement comes following a Wall Street Journal report that alleged Price traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies during his time in Congress, all “while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”

The senators are insisting that the House ethics panel investigate Price before his confirmation hearings begin.

“The questions are serious enough that it raises this to a level that we believe an investigation must occur so that members – Republicans and Democrats – are confident that if this nomination moves forward, they’re voting for someone that they clearly have the information on that we do not have today,” Murray said. “We have a responsibility.”

Asked directly by CNN Wednesday if it was a mistake to trade in stocks in an industry he has oversight of, Price demurred, saying “I am looking forward to a very positive and productive confirmation hearing.” Asked if he will answer that to the committee, Price said, “We will be happy to comply with whatever the senators want us to do.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership the chairman of the panel that approves funding for HHS, told CNN said he didn’t know the details of the allegations of Price but defended his former congressional colleague as a person of high integrity.

“I have a lot confidence in Tom Price’s integrity. So I doubt it’s very serious and he’ll be able to explain” the trades, Blunt said.

“There is (the) STOCK Act,” Blunt added. “I’m confident he is in compliance with that, knowing his as I do as a colleague in the House. Those are the kinds of questions people have to expect to answer if they are nominated to these jobs.”

The timing of Thursday’s public call for the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Price comes after House Republicans attempted to gut the ethics panel just three days earlier. After voting to significantly weaken the office, Republicans – facing fierce public outcry and condemnation – reversed course.

Schumer suggested Thursday that Republicans may have been trying to “protect” Price.

“As you know, Republicans backed off their crusade against ethics for now, but it begged the question: who are they trying to protect?” Schumer asked.

The Trump transition said Democrats’ call for an ethics probe into Price is “hypocrisy.”

“Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington,” transition spokesman Phil Blando said in a statement. “The same questions being raised today by Senator Schumer about Dr. Price should be directed to Senators Carper, Warner, and Whitehouse, who own and have traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and health insurance company stocks. The reality is that Dr. Price’s 20-year career as an orthopedic surgeon and a fiscal conservative make him uniquely qualified to lead HHS.”

CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.