Skip to comments.Skeletons Rattling In Frist's Closet?
Posted on 12/21/2002 6:30:21 PM PST by joesnuffy
CHANGING OF THE GUARD Skeletons rattling in Frist's closet? Ethics expert says ties to hospital chain potential conflict of interest for Lott heir
Posted: December 21, 2002 6:30 p.m. Eastern
© 2002 WorldNetDaily.com
Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist will almost certainly be elected majority leader when the senate votes on a successor to Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott next month.
The choice is a happy one for President George W. Bush, who views Frist as an effective ally; Frist has even been discussed as a possible replacement for Vice President Dick Cheney on the ticket in 2004.
The heart surgeons quick rise to power has turned plenty of heads inside the Beltway. But Frist's ties to the largest hospital chain in the country have the potential to rattle any skeletons in his closet, according to a report in Newsweek magazine.
That company, HCA, is run by Frists brother and was founded by his father.
Columbia/HCA has also been the focus of the governments longest-running health care fraud inquiry. On Wednesday, HCA announced an $880 million settlement with the Justice Department.
Frist himself owns millions in Columbia/HCA stock, kept in a blind trust. And even though Columbia/HCA had an obvious stake in the outcome of both the Congressional Medicare commissions work and the patients bill of rights legislation, Frist didnt withdraw from either debate, according to Newsweek.
In fact, the Tennessee senator took a leadership role in both instances.
Charles Lewis, the executive director of the non-profit and non-partisan Center for Public Integrity and the author of the 'Buying of the President' and other books about transparency in government, spoke with Newsweek about Sen. Frists potential conflict of interest.
Newsweek: What do you make of the timing of the Columbia/HCA settlement with the Justice Department? The federal investigation into the Frist firm first publicly surfaced in 1997 and it settles on Wednesday after five years of wrangling over its terms?
Charles Lewis: It is interesting. I try to avoid connecting dots. I dont know what it means and judges dont talk.
Q: Should Sen. Frist have declined to take a leadership role on the patients bill of rights legislation? Should he have taken part in the Medicare commission?
A: Every Senator handles these things a little differently. Its a little more personal when its your profession. Its one thing to have a relative or a spouse with investments and recluse yourself. Its harder when its been your life and youre elected as a lawmaker based on who you are and what youve done with your life.
That said, when youre worth millions and millions because of controversial and criminally investigated health-care firm and you have significant familial ties to the firm itself, thats a pretty direct conflict situation.
Q: What about the fact that the company in question has just settled an $880 million fraud inquiry with the Justice Department?
A: I think it looks like hell. Its not some obscure company he owns stock in. His family and Sen. Frist have personally become rich because of this company. It is the source of his wealth. I have not studied trial transcripts and briefs and the thousands of pages of material that have built up over the years in the case, but youve got to wonder: If there was substantial fraud committed in that company, what did the Frist family know and when did they know it? This subject will follow him throughout his career. Frists political career is soaring and seems to have been so far unaffected by the Columbia/HCA scandal. Thats interesting in and of itself.
Q: Is that because were talking about insurance fraud and most people dont pay attention to such dry stories?
A: Half the country doesnt vote, 96 percent dont contribute money to the political system, 40 percent dont know the name of the vice president. We have a complacent, aloof, and frequently, yes, ignorant electorate. There certainly hasnt been the glare of national interest in Frist that there has been this week. Its possible that the scrutiny-which has been increasing in the last 72 hours-is a level of scrutiny Frist has never encountered and what is acceptable to Tennessee voters may be unacceptable to the nation.
Q: Frists situation is not necessarily atypical. What does his ascendancy and the presence of other compromised Senators past and present say about our system?
A: We generally tolerate an awful lot of what I call legal corruption; things that dont violate federal law but that look like hell. My answer is 'welcome to Washington.' We have a lot of things going on in Washington that offend average Americans, but that are just fine by Washington standards. It's normal for someone to promulgate public policy after taking money from those folks who are affected by the legislation. That is not illegal or, by Congressional standards, unethical but to most Americans it stinks.
Thats why people despise or distrust politicians and it has something to do with why 100 million or more Americans stay home on election day. Here is Congress hammering out what are the rights of all Americans when it comes to health care and one of the key Senate leaders deeply involved in that process is a multimillionaire from a fraudulent health care company. Call me crazy if I have a problem with that.
Q: Was it wrong for Sen. Frist to tell the American people that he did not know how patients bill of rights legislation would affect his familys company? Since many Americans feel quite strongly about health care and the way it works in this country could this issue explode for Frist?
A: It was disingenuous. Lets be honest. To suggest that that legislation would not affect the company is an insult to our intelligence. Its clear to anyone that a major health-care company is very interested in the language and outcome of patients bill of rights legislation. People are deeply bitter about health care in this country. Not just the uninsured, but also those with a problem who are trying to seek redress. When Congress deals with health care and one of the senators dealing with it is a leading shareholder with one of the largest companies in the country and that company is, bottom line, a bad actor, voters are going to have a problem with that.
There used to be a time in this country when a senator whose family company was found to have committed fraud would not have the temerity to stand election for anythingeven dogcatcher.
Q: Is there a disconnect between what average Americans would consider to be a conflict of interest and what the Senate Ethics Committee considers to be one?
A: Theres almost an oxymoron here. The Senate Ethics Committee hardly ever investigates anything aggressively. Theyre notoriously reticent when it comes to criticizing or investigating colleagues transgressions. Human beings dont like to judge themselves. Usually we would like to look the other way when it comes to ourselves.
In that sense, the U.S. Senate is completely representative of American culture. Yet the Senate is a club. More than a third of them are millionaires; less than one percent of Americans are millionaires. Its not a representative body in many ways. The Senate is an exclusive club and its a substantially white and wealthy club.
Frist is a GOPer. And if the Dems talk loud enough, the words "medical care", and "scandal" in the same sentences should doom him. Esp. if they can find a minority patient who died after being covered by HCA.
It's a simple formula.
She will go after him with everything she's got.
She saw how quickly the GOP folded with Lott. Let's see how this one goes.
Suck it up and get used to it...this is just the begining.
I'll take it one step further. Expect someone to come forward to say that they were harmed from medical malpractice by Dr. Frist or some such nonsense. Count on it.
Oh, yes! He's been going to Africa to treat the poor there. I'm sure the Dems can find some cute little African kid who didn't have the best outcome.
The same way Trent Lott was responsible for Strom Thurmond's 1948 Presidential bid.
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