Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was excused from a congressional hearing Thursday morning in Washington after invoking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to answer lawmakers’ questions about his former company’s dramatic price hikes.
Shkreli’s refusal angered committee members, who both criticized him and pleaded with him to use any remaining influence he had in the industry to discourage the practice. He appeared for a hearing on issues in prescription drug pricing hosted by the U.S. House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform. Turing was scorned under Shkreli’s leadership last summer after acquiring a decades-old drug named Daraprim and hiking the price to $750 per pill from $13.50.
Shkreli declined to provide an opening statement at the start of the hearing, citing the advice of counsel and legal protections that protect witnesses from making self-incriminating statements. Shkreli is currently under federal investigation for securities and wire fraud, though those charges are not related to the price increase for Daraprim. When asked by Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, what he would say about the drug's price to a patient who needed Daraprim to survive, Shkreli also declined to answer.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., suggested the Fifth Amendment may not apply to questions that aren’t about Shkreli’s criminal charges. When Shkreli refused to answer a question about his $2 million purchase of a Wu-Tang Clan album, Gowdy said he was “stunned that a conversation about an album purchase could possibly subject him to incrimination.” Shkreli’s response was a curt, "I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours."
Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli’s lawyer, was seated directly behind the witness and leaned over to whisper in Shkreli’s ear at several points during the hearing. In response to Gowdy’s probe, Brafman stood up and asked to be recognized to speak on Shkreli’s behalf. Chaffetz refused, saying, “You are not recognized and you will be seated.”
Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland then spoke directly to a silent Shkreli and warned him he was in danger of cementing his reputation as the poster boy for greedy pharmaceutical executives. "I want to plead with you to use any remaining influence you have over your former company to press them to lower the price of these drugs," he said.
Shkreli was escorted out of the hearing after he confirmed to Chaffetz he did not intend to answer any questions. After Shkreli’s departure, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he was considering moving to hold Shkreli in contempt of the committee for his refusal to participate. "It's very sad," he said. "What we've seen here is unprecedented arrogance."
Shortly after, Shkreli tweeted an insult directly to the lawmakers he had “respectfully declined” to answer just an hour earlier.
The hearing was scheduled to continue with further questions directed to executives from Turing and Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a representative of the Food and Drug Administration and the head of a trade group of pharmacy benefit managers.