In accidental ‘reply all’ to reporter, Collins thanks CEO for defending HHS nominee

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(CNN) — The head of an Australian pharmaceutical company is forcefully denying to CNN that Rep. Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Human Services, was offered a special discounted rate of the firm’s stocks.

And in private, Rep. Chris Collins is cheering him on.

Price’s decision to buy shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics after learning about the firm from Collins, a fellow GOP congressman, has exacerbated ethics concerns surrounding his nomination, with Democrats warning that the investment has the appearance of insider trading. Both Price and Collins have denied these accusations.

Simon Wilkinson, the CEO of Innate Immunotherapeutics, emailed a CNN reporter late Monday with a detailed rebuttal of a Wall Street Journal report, which said Price had received a “privileged offer” to buy the company’s stocks at a discount.

Minutes later, Collins, using a personal email address, responded to both Wilkinson and the CNN reporter — accidentally replying all to the original message that he had been bcc’d on. And it appeared that Collins is pleased with the company’s defense of his colleague.

“Simon. Yellow journalism. Making the story fit a bias regardless of the facts. Distorted,” the email began, in apparent reference to the WSJ report. “In fact the offer was made available to every US shareholder who had ever participated in any share offering in the US. Interesting how he somehow distorted that.”

Collins, who both invests in and sits on the board of Innate Immunotherapeutics, continued on to say that “many US shareholders” — including his own children — declined to participate “because of the perceived risk.”

“Yet he would make the reader assume it was a slam dunk,” Collins complained again about the WSJ writer, before ending the email with: “Thanks for clarifying. Chris.”

Collins confirmed in a follow-up email to CNN Tuesday morning that he had “replied all by mistake,” before venting his frustrations about a “witch hunt where the press goes after my friends and family.”

In the case of Price’s investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a “standard private placement” has been incorrectly portrayed as “some kind of insider special deal,” Collins said. “I was venting to Simon as he shares my frustration.”

Wilkinson also criticized the WSJ’s report that Price received a privileged offer to buy the company’s stock at a discount.

He told CNN that Price was offered the same price offered to existing Australian and New Zealand shareholders, as well as other US shareholders that met the criteria of “accredited investors.”

Wilkinson also denied the WSJ’s claim that “fewer than 20 US investors” including Price were invited last year to buy discounted shares of the company, described by the WSJ as “an opportunity that, for Mr. Price, arose from an invitation from a company director and fellow congressmen.”

“This statement is NOT factually correct. All Australian and New Zealand shareholders (the company had about 2,400 shareholders at the time of whom 850 had actively supported share offerings over the previous 5 or more years) were ‘invited’ (offered) new shares at the same discount,” Wilkinson said. “Our ‘accredited’ US resident shareholders were also made aware of the offering. About 600 AU/NZ shareholders and about 20 US shareholders/investors took up the ‘invitation.'”

Wilkinson’s vigorous defense of Price’s stock purchase — along with Collins airing his deep frustration — came just hours ahead of the Senate Finance Committee’s vote to send Price’s nomination to the full Senate.

Despite vehement objections from Democrats, Price is widely expected to be confirmed as Trump’s next HHS secretary in the Senate, where Republicans have a majority.

But the Georgia congressman and orthopedic surgeon appears poised to assume the prominent Cabinet position without having put to rest numerous conflicts of interest and ethics questions. As head of the HHS, Price will play an outsized role in the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In two confirmation hearings this month, Price was emphatic that he didn’t do anything that crossed legal and ethical lines.

“Everything I did was ethical, above-board legal and transparent,” Price told the Senate Finance Committee last week.