Smirking drug CEO antagonizes lawmakers after pleading the Fifth

Greg Nash

Embattled drug executive Martin Shkreli antagonized lawmakers on Thursday by smirking and posing for pictures during his first appearance on Capitol Hill even as he refused to answer questions about drug prices.

Shkreli, who was subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee, repeatedly provoked lawmakers from both parties during his brief — and mostly silent — appearance. 

{mosads}One lawmaker, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), said Shkreli should be held in contempt for refusing to answer questions. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the committee treated with such contempt,” Mica said. 

Another Republican, Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), criticized Shkreli for his “childish, smart-aleck-ish smirks,” and blasted him out for posing for pictures while being asked a question from the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) 

“I just think it was totally ridiculous,” Duncan said.   

Shkreli, the 32-year-old founder and former CEO of Turing Pharmaceutical, made headlines in September for raising the price of Daraprim, a drug used to fight parasites, including in patients with HIV, from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill after buying the rights to the drug.

He told lawmakers he would plead the Fifth Amendment and “respectfully decline” to answer questions to protect himself against self-incrimination for separate charges he is facing on securities fraud. 

But within minutes of being escorted out of the hearing, Shkreli tweeted: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”

His lawyer, who left with Shkreli about 45 minutes into the hearing, delivered a sharply worded statement calling the panel a “hostile forum.”

“He’s not the villain, he’s not the bad boy. I think at the end of this story, he’s a hero,” his lawyer said. “I think the only regrets he has are the unfair treatment he has received.” 

After Shkreli read his statement pleading the Fifth Amendment, he was taunted by Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), as well as Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), for remaining silent on the stand after speaking so openly about drug prices in media appearances and online.   

“What do you say to that single pregnant women who might have AIDS, who needs Daraprim to survive?” Chaffetz asked, prompting Shkreli to repeat a line from his lawyer about remaining silent.

“Do you think you’ve done anything wrong?” Chaffetz asked, and Shkreli again repeated the line about the Fifth Amendment.  

Minutes later, Gowdy, a former prosecutor, jumped in, asking Shkreli whether he was pronouncing his name correctly, to which Shkreli replied, “Yes.”

“So you can answer some questions?” Gowdy said.

Before lawmakers were given the chance to question Shkreli, he was already the committee’s center of attention.

In the first few minutes of the hearing, the House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat took sharp aim at Shkreli, accusing him of profiteering at the expense of patients. Shkreli grinned at him, but remained silent.

“It’s not funny Mr. Shkreli. People are dying, and they are getting sicker and sicker,” Cummings said, deviating from his prepared remarks. 

Cummings bashed Shkreli’s notoriously lavish lifestyle, which he boasts about while he occasionally live-streams his day or speaks to magazine reporters. Last year, the so-called “pharma bro” went public with this $2 million purchase of an album by the Wu-Tang Clan, fueling the national fury. 

“The people in my district are not on the Forbes billionaire list. They don’t buy Wu-Tang Clan albums for $2 million. They can’t liquidate assets to free up millions of dollars,” Cummings said.   

This story was updated at 11:17 a.m.

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