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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Sarah N. Lynch and David Ingram

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former drug executive Martin Shkreli laughed off questions about drug prices and tweeted that lawmakers were imbeciles on Thursday, when he appeared at a U.S. congressional hearing against his will.

Shkreli, 32, sparked outrage last year among patients, medical societies and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of 62-year-old Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent to $750 a pill.

The lifesaving medicine, used to treat a parasitic infection, once sold for $1 a pill.

At a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Shkreli repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says no person shall be compelled in any criminal case “to be a witness against himself.”

Wearing a sport jacket and collared shirt rather than his usual T-shirt, he responded to questions by laughing, twirling a pencil and yawning.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, asked Shkreli what he would tell a single, pregnant woman with AIDS who needed Daraprim to survive, and whether he thought he had done anything wrong. Shkreli declined to answer.

“I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours,” said Shkreli after South Carolina Republican Representative Trey Gowdy suggested he could answer questions that were unrelated to pending fraud charges against him.

After the hearing, Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, attributed his client’s behavior to “nervous energy.”

Later, though, Shkreli wrote on Twitter: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”

U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, who learned about the tweet while Turing Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff was testifying, pounded his fist on the dais. The Maryland Democrat then shouted about an internal Turing document in which a staffer joked about the price increase.

“You all spent all of your time strategizing about how to hide your price increase … and coming up with stupid jokes while other people were sitting there trying to figure out how they were going to survive,” Cummings said.

Shkreli was arrested in December and charged with running his investment funds and companies almost like a Ponzi scheme. He has pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges, which are not related to the pricing of Daraprim. He also stepped down from Turing and was fired from KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Cummings pleaded with Shkreli to reconsider his views about drug pricing: “You can go down as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives, or you can change the system.”

At one point, Brafman asked to address the committee, but Chaffetz said no.

Shkreli was allowed to leave the hearing early after he repeated that he would not answer any questions.

 

‘SUCH CONTEMPT’

Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, said he would consider asking fellow lawmakers to hold Shkreli in contempt for his behavior.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the committee treated with such contempt,” Mica said.

Brafman said Shkreli would have liked to discuss drug pricing but had no choice, given the criminal charges against him.

Also at the hearing, Valeant Pharmaceuticals Inc interim CEO Howard Schiller put forward a conciliatory face, testifying that his company had changed its business and pricing tactics.

“Where we have made mistakes, we are listening and changing,” Schiller said during opening remarks. “In a number of cases, we have been too aggressive” about price increases.

Valeant shares rose more than 5 percent during the hearing.

Retzlaff testified that Turing acquired Daraprim because it was “priced far below its market value” and is committed to investing revenue into new treatments.

The Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general are investigating Turing for possible antitrust violations.

 

(This story has been refiled to fix spelling error in paragraph 11, corrects ‘doing’ to ‘going’)

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond and Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Von Ahn)

Photo: Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, smiles as he listens to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (seen on video screen) during a hearing on “Developments in the Prescription Drug Market Oversight” on Capitol Hill in Washington February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]