In a way, Martin Shkreli’s appearance in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was a relief because he finally quit talking.
Ever since the ex-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals came into the public eye for raising the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill, he hasn’t shut up. Whether he was quoting Eminem lyrics to defend the price hike, insulting his critics on Twitter, publicly feuding with Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah, or livestreaming from his Brooklyn apartment, the accused fraudster hasn’t stopped for breath in months. Until Thursday morning.
Last month, Shkreli was subpoenaed to appear at a House hearing on pharmaceutical price increases, and appear he did. But he didn’t say much.
“Do you think you’ve done anything wrong?” Committee Chairman Representative Jason Chaffetz asked him.
“On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question,” Shkreli responded.
Sporting a smirk, Shkreli pleaded the Fifth in response to every question except one from Rep. Trey Gowdy about the pronunciation of his last name.
“See, there! You can answer some questions!” Gowdy joked.
“I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours,” Shkreli snarked back.
When asked by Rep. Gowdy whether or not the Wu-Tang Clan was indeed the name of the group who recorded the single-issue album Shkreli bought for $2 million last year, he again invoked the Fifth, after his lawyer Benjamin Brafman whispered in his ear.“On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question,” he repeated.
Shkreli’s silence was not a surprise. After he received the subpoena in January, he publicly stated his intention—on Twitter, of course—to plead the Fifth.
Gowdy argued that, given that Shkreli’s recent indictment was not the topic of the hearing, the Fifth Amendment may not apply. Following which, Brafman briefly rose from his seat behind the panel, interrupted the proceedings, and asked to be recognized.
“You are not recognized and you will be seated,” Rep. Chaffetz ordered, sternly.
Shkreli’s stubborn refusal to speak didn’t stop Rep. Elijah Cummings from begging him to use any influence he still had at Turing—Shkreli stepped down as CEO the day after his December arrest—to lower the price of Daraprim, which is used to help HIV patients and other immunocompromised individuals fight off toxoplasmosis infections.
When Shkreli started to turn his head away from Rep. Cummings, the congressman said, “You can look away if you like, but I wish you could see the faces of people...who cannot get the drugs that they need.”
Cummings noted Shkreli’s childish behavior, but that didn’t stop him from continuing his plea.
“You have a spotlight and you have a platform,” he said. “You could use that attention to come clean, to right your wrongs, and to become one of the most effective patient advocates in the country, and one that could make a big difference in so many people’s lives.”
The most hated man in America grinned.
“I know you’re smiling but I’m very serious, sir,” Cummings reiterated, but Shkreli only kept smiling, twiddling with his pencil and looking away from the committee.
Shkreli was ultimately excused from the room based on his intention to plead the Fifth in response to all questions.
Also present at the hearing was current Turing Pharma Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff, who defended the Daraprim price hike as being necessary to fund new research and development to treat toxoplasmosis. Her arguments were more politely delivered than Shkreli’s many defenses of the price hike but they were, in essence, the same.
In documents released by Rep. Cummings this week, it was discovered that Shkreli wrote, “Nice work as usual, $1 [billion] here we come” in an email to the Turing Pharma board of directors about the planned purchase of Daraprim, the only FDA-approved toxoplasmosis treatment.
“Should be a very handsome investment for all of us,” he added in an email sent after the acquisition.
The respite today from Shkreli’s ceaseless stream of bullshit was short-lived. Minutes after he left the hearing, the tweeting began. First, he called the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “imbeciles.”
Then, true to his narcissistic personal brand, Shkreli retweeted praise of his performance in front of the committee, hit on a Gawker journalist, and joked about his facial expressions during the hearing. The circus was back in town. It wasn’t gone for long.
Later in the hearing, the committee noted that after Shkreli was dismissed, he had stopped to take a photo with someone before leaving the room. Word of his “imbeciles” tweet eventually made its way back to the representatives, too, as they were questioning the other pharmaceutical representatives.
In a press conference outside, Brafman chalked his client’s disrespectful behavior up to “nervous energy.” Given that the widely hated “Pharma Bro” will soon face trial for seven counts of securities fraud and wire fraud, he has good reason to be nervous.