By RICHARD POWELSON
Scripps Howard News Service
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he has "participated fully" with federal agencies’ probes into the timing of his sale of HCA stock last year and he feels "things have progressed well."
However, the Tennessee Republican told several reporters that he does not know if the investigations are completed. Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office of southern New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigations last September after Frist told his qualified blind trust to sell all his HCA shares. A month later HCA’s quarterly earnings report prompted stock prices to drop about 10.5 percent.
Frist was asked about HCA because the health care company, founded by his father and brother in the 1960s, is being acquired by private investors for $21.3 billion in cash and the assumption of $11.7 billion in debt.
He said he had no regrets about selling his HCA stock earlier because he wanted to diversify his assets. His qualified blind trust did not disclose details of how much HCA stock it sold, or when, or for how much money.
However, Frist’s public financial report for last year showed that his largest trust was worth a range of $5 million to $25 million and yielded "over $5 million" in income. Two of his other trusts reported value of $1 million to $5 million each and each had income of $100,000 or less.
Frist, considering a run for president in 2008, is headed this weekend to Iowa, site of the country’s first caucus contest for GOP presidential candidates. He said his message there would emphasize the different approaches of Republicans and Democrats.
He said Republicans have a record of fostering economic prosperity, cutting taxes, securing the homeland, while Democrats favor "retreat" in Iraq and partisanship on other matters.
Frist met with President Bush Tuesday over the Israel-Lebanon conflict. He disagreed with a comment attributed in the media to former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich that the Middle East has become World War III.
"I do not think this is World War III," Frist said. "It is a regional conflict that is being played out in southern Lebanon." But he said the war on terror is a global effort posing "a very long challenge."
While some Republicans are hearing from consultants to distance themselves from Bush due to his declining poll numbers, Frist suggests the opposite approach.
"I disagree with those political strategists," Frist said. "I’m encouraging candidates … to center on the issues that improve individual growth … individual dignity … securing the homeland, (be) strong in the war on terror … sticking with our president on economic issues."
(E-mail powelsonr(at)shns.com or visit www.shns.com.)