The Washington Post reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is praising the move of an arrested reporter this week. The arrest of the reporter is a move that has many, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), decrying both the actions of Tom Price and the Capitol Police. This arrest occurred at the same time that Tom Price himself is the subject of Congressional ethics complaints over actions far more egregious than the misdemeanor the reporter has been charged with.
The Washington Post detailed the incident of the arrested reporter who was arrested for asking Tom Price a question. The incident occurred in the State Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday of this past week. The journalist, Dan Heyman with the Public News Service, was asking Tom Price questions about pre-existing conditions in the new Trump Care legislation related to domestic violence.
Tom Price would not answer the questions. Heyman asked, “You refuse to answer? Tell me no comment.” Moments later Heyman was pulled aside by West Virginia Division of Protective Services, also referred to as the Capitol Police. He was then arrested and charged with willful disruption of state government processes, which is a misdemeanor.
The complaint alleges he was “aggressively breaching” security detail of the Secret Service with Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway. The Capitol Police say the charges are not related to the notion that Heyman was just asking a question, but related to physical actions they allege that he undertook at the time in question.
The Capitol Police allege that Heyman was trying to breach the Secret Security detail, and agents were forced to remove him. But Heyman said he was not even given a warning, or given the opportunity to leave or back away.
CNN Money reported that Heyman was held for eight hours, and released on a $5,000 bond. He faces a fine of up to $100 and a six-month jail term.
Heyman told CNN after the incident that, “It’s fair for a member of the cabinet to have security. It’s not fair for that security to protect them from uncomfortable questions.”
The complaint against Dan Heyman also specifically addresses “yelling questions” at Kellyanne Conway and Tom Price. This is what reporters do. Heyman’s lawyer said, “I’ve never had a client get arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that.”
CNBC News reports that Heyman’s lawyer, Tim DiPiero, also said the following about Tom Price having a reporter arrested.
“He wasn’t doing anything different than what happens every day around the country, which is a reporter trying to get a question answered.”
Jamie Lynn Crofts for the ACLU in West Virginia has asked the Capitol Police to drop the charges.
“They have shown us every day since Donald Trump took office they don’t care about the First Amendment or the free press. Today was just another example of that. It’s horrifying.”
A spokesman for the Capitol Police has denied that Heyman was arrested for exercising his First Amendment rights. But Tom Price noted the arrested reporter was “not in a press conference” suggesting that reporters are only allowed to ask questions in a press conference.
There is no law stating that reporters are not permitted to ask questions outside of a press briefing, conference, or scheduled press scrum. The First Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
As a member of a presidential cabinet, Tom Price would know this. His judgement of a member of the free press brings his own history under scrutiny.
The Religious News Service reported that Tom Price is an orthopedic surgeon who was a member of Congress for Georgia before joining Donald Trump’s cabinet. He was picked to lead the Department of Health and Human Services with much controversy. Tom Price also identifies as a Presbyterian, and is a graduate of Emory University that is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
Tom Price’s voting record and record on legislation reflects one aligned with the far-right Conservative ideals of the Republican party. He opposes same-sex marriage and has a record of voting to limit abortion rights. He may also be a climate denier, signing a pledge in 2008 that he would not support global warming legislation that would raise taxes.
CNBC News noted that Price also has a record of “potentially illegal and unconstitutional” memos, and even received a blast from Republicans the same day that Heyman was arrested. On May 3, Tom Price issued a memo to his subordinates that prohibited them from communicating independently with Congress without first informing him. It read as follows.
“To ensure that our efforts are coordinated, any communications with Members of Congress and staff should not occur without prior consultation with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL). This includes requests for calls, meetings, briefings, technical assistance, policy development, hearings, oversight, detailees, etc. The ASL is responsible for ensuring Secretary Price’s involvement on appropriate matters.”
Tom Price then received a letter on May 4, signed by Republican Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and also by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those Republicans noted to Tom Price that his memo to his employees was “potentially illegal and unconstitutional” and seen as an attempt to stifle federal employees freedom of speech and other First Amendment freedoms.
“Attached is an internal memorandum we obtained from your Department. It instructs Department employees to consult with legislative affairs personnel prior to communicating with Congress. Federal employees will most certainly read this instruction as a prohibition against direct communications with Congress without permission. As such, it is potentially illegal and unconstitutional, and will likely chill protected disclosures of waste, fraud, and abuse.”
It’s not the only ethics problem that Tom Price has faced during his thus-far very short tenure on the Cabinet. It was very difficult for him to get on the Cabinet, after it was revealed that Tom Price had an issue with reporting stock values in an ethical manner. A USA Today analysis showed that Tom Price “often misstated the timing of stock purchases or failed to report them all together” while he was representing Georgia as a member of Congress.
Price did not provide disclosures related to his own investments in an Australian biotech company. He also reportedly invested in health care companies, and followed up those investments with legislation that would benefit the companies. It made confirmation of Tom Price into the Trump Administration very difficult, with a coalition sending letters to Senate leaders during the confirmation process asking them to delay consideration of Tom Price until all of this was sorted out.
During his own confirmation hearing in January, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) was tweeting ubiquitous tweets as well. The tweets from the OGE said the following, while Tom Price was under testimony at his own confirmation hearing.
“OGE oversees the executive branch ethics program, while Congress & the Courts have their own ethics programs. OGE does not handle complaints of misconduct. Please learn where and how to report federal employee misconduct. OGE’s focus is prevention; IGs investigate potential misconduct & @TheJusticeDept prosecutes criminal violations.”
The OGE stated on their website it is the responsibility of each federal employee to understand and abide by ethics laws and rules, and that agency ethics officials are available to help in that regard. They are not a prosecuting body, but do receive complaints from the public, saying on their website it is the public’s role to assist in holding federal employees accountable.
Kellyanne Conway, who was with Tom Price the day the reporter was arrested, has been the subject of OGE complaints. CBS News reported that the OGE recommended discipline of Kellyanne Conway after she promoted Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on television. Kellyanne Conway has not conducted many media interviews since that violation, after having conducted them on a daily basis. She has also been reported to the Washington D.C. Bar Association and recommended for disbarment due to her complex relationship with the truth.
Also, right before Tom Price’s confirmation hearing, he was the subject of an earlier Congressional ethics complaint himself. This complaint is separate from the recent May 2017 complaint alleging he was engaging in “potentially illegal and unconstitutional” acts with his own staff.
On January 18, the Democratic Coalition reported Tom Price to the Office of Congressional Ethics, a different agency than the OGE, after they discovered $41,950 in petty cash withdrawals during his Congressional campaigns. The Democratic Coalition said in a press release that petty cash disbursements began June 6, 2006, and continued through October 20, 2016, and ranged in value from $100 to $750.
The press release for the Democratic Coalition noted that the FEC Campaign Guide instructed that petty cash can only be used to make payments of $100 or less, and all disbursements must be tracked individually. Tom Price appears to have violated those rules. Before Tom Price was confirmed, Scott Dworkin of the Democratic Coalition said the following in a press release.
“Over $40,000 in cash was withdrawn from the Congressman’s campaign account, and we have no idea where it went. This should immediately disqualify Price from being confirmed to Trump’s cabinet, and he should tell us all what that money was really spent on.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) reviews “allegations of misconduct against members, officers, and staff of the U.S. House of representatives.” It is an office that the Republicans tried to gut once Donald Trump took office, but they were unsuccessful in that regard. According to the OCE website, in the first quarter of 2017, the OCE investigated seven different complaints of ethics violations.
It is unclear if the complaint against Tom Price is one of those complaints. Today, Kellyanne Conway and Tom Price, both the subject of ethics complaints, are happy with the Capitol Police for arresting a reporter on a misdemeanor. Here is a clip of the reporter being taken away by Capitol Police.
Benjamin Wakana, a spokesperson for Tom Price’s predecessor, HHS Sylvia Burwell had a comment for the reporter arrested from the Tom Price complaint. He said, “If I supported a bill that destroyed protections for people with pre-existing conditions, I probably wouldn’t want to answer questions either. But that doesn’t mean you can arrest the person asking questions.”
The reporter arrested from the Tom Price incident isn’t the only incident of prohibition of speech on the record from Tom Price. In their scathing letter to Price following his recent internal memo, Republicans Rep. Chaffetz and Rep. Grassley also said the following.
“Protecting whistleblowers who courageously speak out is not a partisan issue – it is critical to the functioning of our government.”
If Tom Price experiences further backlash from his prohibition of speech with federal employees, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, the reporter arrested for asking questions is facing a fine and a six month jail term, along with a misdemeanor charge on his record.
[Feature Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]