- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fellow Republicans say the timing of Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist’s stock sale has further undermined his credibility as majority leader and as a potential candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

“The man should be afforded the presumption of innocence, but the [Securities and Exchange Commission] does not launch an investigation willy-nilly, particularly against a member of the United States Senate,” said J. William Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union. “They’re not going to do that in a casual fashion.”

Mr. Frist, a heart surgeon before being elected to Congress, has taken political heat after it was reported last week that federal investigators are looking into his sale of shares in HCA Inc., a Nashville-based hospital company that his family founded and that his brother runs.

The price of the stocks, which were in blind trusts, plunged shortly after he unloaded them.

“It’s the timing that is troubling,” Mr. Lauderback said. “The stock price dropped significantly shortly after the sale of Senator Frist’s stock. His brother is the chief executive officer of HCA, and his family founded the company. It just doesn’t look good.”

Mr. Frist was viewed favorably by many social conservatives until earlier this year, when he reneged on his support for President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Mr. Frist’s leadership was questioned when seven fellow Senate Republicans broke ranks to join seven Democrats in the “Gang of 14” whose compromise averted Mr. Frist’s use of the so-called “nuclear option” to end Democratic filibusters of federal judicial nominations.

Some Republicans say they sympathize with Mr. Frist’s efforts to accommodate competing interests.

“Trying to please Republican primary voters and Republican senators all at the same time is probably impossible,” said Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook. “Nobody can be expected to accomplish that.”

Mr. Frist has been criticized for holding stock in the health care industry when it is one of the most important and challenging issues before the Senate. He has said he dumped his stockholdings to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest.

The federal probe of Mr. Frist’s financial dealings would matter only if he were found guilty of an offense, said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.

“If Frist is guilty of something, it will impact on his ability to lead as well as to run for president,” Mr. Weyrich said, but added: “I would be absolutely shocked if he were guilty. He’s ethical, and he thinks about such matters. So I simply don’t believe Frist is guilty.”


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