News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Frist's timing falls into highly suspect category

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he sold his stock in the family company, Hospital Corp. of America Inc., only to avoid the appearance of any impropriety.

If Sen. Frist was so concerned about appearances, he should have sold the stock more than 10 years ago, when he first ran for office, rather than earlier this year when insiders were also selling their shares and just two weeks before the stock's value plummeted.

"My only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest," Sen. Frist, R-Tenn., said Monday in a statement before refusing to answer reporters' questions.

The sale prompted investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.

There are all kinds of problems with the transaction, not the least of which is that Sen. Frist held the stock in the first place. Critics have for years argued that Sen. Frist should divest himself of all interest in the health care company because of his key role in developing health care legislation. Rather than selling his stake, however, Sen. Frist placed his shares in a blind trust — a common practice among politicians wishing to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. A third party administers a blind trust.

But the trust was apparently no so blind. Documents show that the senator was updated several times about his investments in HCA and other transactions even though they were held in supposedly blind trusts.

Sen. Frist has done what many politicians can only dream of accomplishing. He has had his cake and eaten it too — icing and all.

And now he claims he had no information about the family company that wasn't available to the public. If true, then the timing of his sudden episode of conscience was indeed fortuitous.

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