'Pharma bro' Martin Shkreli keeps mum at House hearing, calls Congress 'imbeciles'

Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, prepares to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on "Developments in the Prescription Drug Market Oversight" on Capitol Hill in Washington February 4, 2016. © Joshua Roberts
Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli ‒ the “most hated man in America,” who raised the price of an HIV treatment 5,500 percent ‒ remained silent during a congressional hearing on prescription drug prices. He later tweeted that politicians were “imbeciles.”

Summoned before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to give testimony on his former company’s recent increases in prices of prescription drugs, Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

To the repeated urging of Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Representative Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), the ex-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals merely replied he intended "to follow to advice of my counsel, not yours."

The questions the infamous CEO refused to answer ranged from the deadly serious to the irreverent.

“What do you say to that single, pregnant woman who might have AIDS, no income. And she needs Daraprim in order to survive?” Chaffetz asked. “What do you say to her when she has to make that choice? What do you say to her?”

Shkreli replied: ”On the advice of counsel I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.”

Gowdy sought to find out whether the reluctant witness would speak on any topics.

© Joshua Roberts

“We can even talk about the purchase of is it Wu-Tang Clan. Is that the name of the album?” Gowdy asked, referring to Shkreli’s $2 million purchase for the sole copy of a Wu-Tang Clan hip-hop album in May.

“On the advice of counsel I invoke my fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question,” Shkreli responded.

“I am stunned that a conversation about an album purchased could possibly subject him to incrimination,” Gowdy replied.

Even asking the former Turing CEO if he understood that he could waive his Fifth Amendment rights got a similar response.

Shkreli did, however, answer one question:

Gowdy: Is [your name] pronounced Shkreli?
Shkreli: Yes, sir.
Gowdy:  So there are some questions you can answer!

Shkreli's lawyer also advised him not to speak to the press. Seeing that they would get nothing from the  ex-CEO, the committee dismissed him early. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the committee treated with such contempt,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, said after Shkreli left. Mica then asked if Shkreli could be held in contempt of Congress, but Chaffetz said he did not intend to do so.

The New York-born "Pharma Bro" gained notoriety after Turing raised the price of Daraprim, a drug essential for HIV treatment, from $13.50 to $750 per pill in just over a month last fall. His contempt for critics earned him the moniker of "the most hated man on the internet." 

Shkreli is currently being investigated for fraud related to his activity in a hedge fund and Retrophin, a pharmaceutical company he owned before his tenure at Turing.

He has not been coy defending his actions and lifestyle in interviews and on twitter, but during the congressional hearing he preferred to smirk and grin instead of answering the questions. His lawyer attributed the tics to “nervous energy.”

The lawmakers were not amused.

"It's not funny, Mr. Shkreli. People are dying. And they're getting sicker and sicker," yelled Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the committee’s ranking member.

Shkreli took it to Twitter later: