A Lawyer Who Investigated Planned Parenthood And Another Heritage Foundation Employee: Here's a Closer Look at Trump's Latest Appointees

In 2015, March Bell was Republican staff director and chief counsel for a House panel that investigated Planned Parenthood. The mission: to find out if Planned Parenthood, a system of more than 600 reproductive care clinics across the country, was profiting off donated fetal tissues. The investigation was kicked off by undercover videos from anti-abortion activists that were heavily doctored and edited.

Keep reading...Show less

This Pioneering Heart Surgeon Has a Secret History of Research Violations, Conflicts of Interest and Poor Outcomes

There’s a story Bud Frazier tells often. It was around 1966, and Frazier, now one of the world’s most celebrated heart surgeons, was a medical student at Baylor College of Medicine.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Keep reading...Show less

Did a Psychiatric Hospital Lock Up People for Profit?

The investigation started modestly enough — with documents anyone could have seen. Buried amid the public financial records of Universal Health Services, the largest psychiatric hospital chain in America, was a disclosure to its investors: It was under federal investigation.

Keep reading...Show less

Texas Official after Harvey: The 'Red Cross Was Not There'

The Red Cross’ anemic response to Hurricane Harvey left officials in several Texas counties seething, emails obtained by ProPublica show. In some cases, the Red Cross simply failed to show up as it promised it would.

Keep reading...Show less

Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.
Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.
Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.
The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.
Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.
When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.
“I did not resign,” he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Moments ago I was fired.”
“By the way,” Bharara said in a second tweet, “now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like."
Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.
Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades.
In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee’s health panel.
In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.
Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price’s office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.
Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades.
Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.
Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.
In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.
Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades. “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge,” she wrote.
What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.
Along with the Price matter, Bharara’s former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara’s former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.
ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.
Do you have access to information about Tom Price that should be public? Email or send him encrypted messages on Signal at 213-271-7217. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.
For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on how Tom Price’s office went to bat for a pharma company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.
Like this story? Sign up for ProPublica's daily newsletter.

Early Voting Increases Turnout 2 to 4 Percent, Boosts Voting Among Minorities

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states now offer voters some way to cast ballots early and avoid lining up at the polls on Election Day.

Keep reading...Show less

Prosecutors Admit Woman Spent 10 Years in Prison for Crime She Likely Didn't Commit

Update February 23, 2016: At a hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, Judge Matthew D’Emic endorsed District Attorney’s request to vacate the manslaughter conviction of Vanessa Gathers.

Keep reading...Show less

Why Is California Shipping Hundreds of Troubled Children Out of State?

At 14, Deshaun Becton’s life is a roadmap to California’s faltering efforts to care for its most troubled children. 

Keep reading...Show less

Ferguson’s Other Tragedy: School Segregation Still Leaves a Mark in Missouri

Before his tragic death, Michael Brown had just graduated high school and was headed to college -- a path more promising than most of his peers. But Brown’s academic experience was far from perfect, ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones shares on this week’s podcast. His school was part of the Normandy district, one of the poorest, most segregated and lowest performing in Missouri.

Keep reading...Show less

How Are Public Schools Getting Away With Violently Restraining Students?

In March 2012, police responded to a call from a Brooklyn public school about a five-year-old autistic boy who was having a tantrum. Officers held down the kindergartener, who was then tied to a stretcher and transported to a hospital. The little boy's mother had been called to the school and witnessed the episode. "He was crying and screaming," she said. "They strapped him to that stretcher."

Keep reading...Show less

TurboTax Maker Linked to 'Grassroots' Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing

Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.

Keep reading...Show less

Dallas Accused of Using Federal Money to Fuel Housing Discrmination

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has accused Dallas, one of the nation’s largest cities, of violating civil rights law through housing practices that discriminated against black, Latino and disabled residents.

Keep reading...Show less

Internships with Prestige... and 0$ Paychecks

Northwestern University’s journalism school boasts of its prowess in preparing students for prestigious careers — but it also serves as a pipeline for unpaid internships.

It’s an arrangement that even Medill is second-guessing. According to a July 30 email obtained by ProPublica, Medill has begun asking news organizations whether they would consider paying students minimum wage.

“As always, Medill and the University are careful to make sure that the program is an academic experience that meets U.S. Department of Labor regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” program coordinator Desiree Hanford wrote in an email to editors and internship coordinators at partner media companies.

“Some sites … have told Medill that their legal counsel require them to pay a student either in addition to the $1,250 or in lieu of the $1,250 to reflect the company’s own hiring policies that address this law,” Hanford wrote. (see full document)

“With this backdrop, Medill would like to know whether you would be willing to pay a student who is doing a residency at your site and, if so, how much you would be willing to pay?,” Hanford asked. “Would you be willing to pay your state’s minimum wage?”

Jack Doppelt, Medill’s interim associate dean for journalism, said the program complies with Labor Department guidelines, but that the school is still considering whether to require employers to pay its students.

“For the purposes of the law, we’re comfortable,” Doppelt said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re comfortable with students not getting paid money.”

Alice Truong, a 2010 Medill graduate, wasn’t comfortable going unpaid, either. Truong said she didn’t have the finances to move to another city for three months on Medill’s internship stipend (which is usually $900). As a result, while some of her classmates had a list of 20 journalism residency options around the country, Truong’s financial constraints narrowed her choices to “two or three okay options” in the Chicago area.

“That alone was very frustrating, and I remember being very upset about this,” Truong said. “For most students at Northwestern, everything was within reach to them. I only had a handful of options.”

When Truong was in school, Medill also prohibited students from working other jobs during Journalism Residency, forcing Truong to give up her work-study job that quarter. Medill has repealed that policy as of this academic year.

Truong ended up interning at her first choice site, the RedEye, a Chicago-based daily tabloid. There, she wrote short pop culture articles and a few cover stories. She says her internship was a valuable experience that ultimately got her a paid internship and then a job at the Wall Street Journal. But she was still frustrated by the way the program was structured.

“I was close to graduating, and there are so many money stressors around that period of time,” Truong said. “So having to go to a very expensive school to start with, and having to do an internship where I essentially provided free labor for credit, while the school was paid — that was hard to stomach.”

Medill’s program has existed in some form since at least 1973, when it was known as  “Teaching Newspaper.” Roger Boye, an associate professor who has taught at Medill since 1971, said Medill initially gave students a choice between reporting on campus and reporting from a professional newsroom. The internship placements were so successful that Medill made the program a requirement in 1989.

“In the early days – and this is still true – we considered the [newsroom] editors basically part-time faculty members,” Boye said. “These were people that had an educational mission to their own work and wanted to be part of an educational process.”

Medill says its intern sites – more than 100 in all – are chosen carefully to ensure that supervisors will provide “substantive editorial experience” and “good mentoring.”Hanford, the program coordinator, said students must send weekly logs to their adviser and receive midterm and final evaluations from their employers. Medill advisers also visit their students midway through the quarter.

“When I have students go on [Journalism Residency], not one of them leaves without being given my cell phone number because I want to know if something is happening, if there’s an emergency,” Hanford said. “I don’t care what that emergency is.”

Is Academic Credit Enough?

Medill is reevaluating its program at a time when employers and students nationwide are questioning the legality of unpaid internships. In recent years, unpaid interns have brought several high-profile lawsuits seeking back pay, though most have resulted in settlements or findings that favor employers. Only one ruling addressed the issue of internships for academic credit.

According to Labor Department guidelines, an unpaid internship is more likely to be legal if a college grants academic credit and provides oversight. But oversight alone isn’t a guarantee — unpaid internships still must meet six key criteria. For example, the internship must be educational, benefit the intern more than the employer, and not displace paid employees. 

In the last three years, federal investigators have cited at least four employers for violating federal guidelines, even though their unpaid interns received academic credit. One of those cases faulted Rome Snowboards Corp. in Waterbury, Vt.  

Matthew Wolfe interned for free at Rome Snowboards during his senior year at Saint Michael’s College, doing data entry for 10 hours a week. Wolfe received four hours of academic credit for his time. He was surprised when, the summer after graduation, he received a letter from the government and a check for about $1,000.

“Of course I’d love to be compensated for the work, but as a college student – from all of our perspectives – that wasn’t a norm,” Wolfe said. “There weren’t many students who expected to be paid and get credit.”

The Labor Department concurred, finding that “unpaid internships at for-profit establishments appear to be prevalent in the area” and that Rome Snowboards seemed unaware that interns at “for-profit firms almost always have to be paid.”

Rome Snowboards co-founder Josh Reid, who declined to comment for this story, told the investigator that he was frustrated “with the interns’ colleges, whom he believed were complicit in the firm’s noncompliance involving the interns.”

Colleges clearly play a key role. Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, surveyed college officials last year and found that 75 percent thought academic credit was “an appropriate substitute” for wages in some or all cases.

Joanne LaBrake-Muehlberger, internship director at Saint Michael’s College, said she works with employers to ensure students receive educational training.

“Just because the student is earning the credit doesn’t mean that lets the site off the hook with their responsibility,” LaBrake-Muehlberger said. “We make that clear. I send out a letter, and I include the information from the Department of Labor, so they are made very much aware of the guidelines.”

But the federal investigator in the Rome Snowboards case reported that area schools were “either unaware of or turning a blind-eye to the requirements of the [Fair Labor Standards Act].”

Regardless, the department placed ultimate responsibility with the employer and ordered Rome Snowboards to pay $37,673 in back wages to 38 interns, ruling that because they provided an “immediate advantage” to the company, they should have been paid.

The courts have also begun to weigh in on academic-based internships. In his Juneruling against Fox Searchlight Pictures, federal Judge William H. Pauley III wrote, “A university’s decision to grant academic credit is not a determination that an unpaid internship complies with [New York labor law].”

“Universities may add additional requirements or coursework for students receiving internship credit, but the focus of the [New York labor law] is on the requirements and training provided by the alleged employer,” Pauley ruled.

The ruling could put a damper on unpaid internships for academic credit, according to David Yamada, a labor rights advocate and law professor at Suffolk University.

“If the judge’s observations in the Fox Searchlight case are affirmed and become law, then obviously those private sector internship placements at least are open for liability against that internship employer,” Yamada said. “And then the school might have to incur the wrath of that employer, who’s saying, ‘Oh gosh, you sent us this student, and they turned around and sued us.’”

Shrinking Newsrooms, Shrinking Wages

While unpaid internship postings are rampant on public job boards at journalism schools at New York University and the University of California, Berkeley, some media interns are starting to push back. Gawker Media, Condé Nast, NBCUniversal, Inc. and News Corp. are all facing lawsuits from former interns who say they should have been paid minimum wage.

The Nation Institute, a nonprofit, agreed to begin paying its interns minimum wage after an embarrassing public campaign by a group of former interns who had been paid only $150 a week.

But as newsrooms revisit internships, it’s clear that for some, even minimum wage can strain the budget. Newspaper staffs have shrunk by 30 percent since 2000, with newspapers employing fewer full-time staffers than they did in 1978, according to Pew’s 2013 State of the Media report.

The Charlotte Observer ended its paid summer internship program and stopped accepting Medill interns about four or five years ago to save money.

“This is strictly just a budget thing with us,” said Jim Walser, the Observer’s projects editor and intern coordinator. “We had to cut out everything that was extraneous to try to save as many permanent staffers as we could. We loved the kids coming in from Northwestern. We never had a bad one.”

Chicago Public Media stopped participating in Medill’s journalism residency in 2008.

“Medill charges news organizations a fee, and being that we’re a nonprofit, that’s not something we necessarily could absorb,” internship director George Lara said. He said the station continues to offer some unpaid and some grant-based internships.

Journalism graduates are feeling newsroom cutbacks, too. Only 60 percent of journalism majors reported holding a job related to their field of study six to eight months after graduation, according to a 2012 study at the University of Georgia. On average, journalism grads in 2012 made barely more than those who graduated in 1987, the study found.

Faced with such a tight job market, journalism students are hungry for the type of internships that will give them an edge, said Gina Neff, associate professor of communication at the University of Washington. But while Neff found that virtually all journalism schools offer internship programs, she estimates only about 10 percent of them provide students deep academic engagement.

“We’ve held up a class of jobs that are ‘the internship,’ that are typically unpaid or underpaid,” Neff said. “I would call on more professors to stand up and take notice that we’re in effect complicit in a system that is underpaying student labor.”

Medill’s dean says the school hopes to ensure students are compensated for their work, without limiting their options in a struggling industry.

“It’s a very delicate balance,” Doppelt said. “We’re trying to have that happen, and it’s a set of moving negotiations, and we have to be sensitive to what the field – that is hurting right now, financially – might be able to do.”

As Medill reevaluates its prestigious internship program, 15 news organizations have started to pay their Medill interns and at least 18 more said they would consider doing so, according to Hanford, the internship coordinator.

WGEM, a television station in Western Illinois, started paying them state minimum wage last year when the station’s owner, Quincy Broadcast Print Interactive, launched a paid internship program for the whole company.

Jena Schulz, director of human resources for Quincy, said each Medill student works as “a typical member of the news department team,” shooting video and going on air. From a legal standpoint, only paid interns can do that kind of work, Schulz said.

“We believe it is necessary for us to treat the interns as actual employees — and pay them — in order for them to receive the full benefit of the experience,” Schulz said. “Our company has operated by the letter of the law and said, if the interns are anything other than in your way, they probably don’t qualify as unpaid.”

The Kitsap Sun, a mid-sized newspaper in Bremerton, Wash., also started paying its Medill interns the state minimum wage of $9.19 per hour a few years ago.

“They should get paid for their time,” said editor David Nelson. “They’re here. They need to pay rent. They’re learning, but it’s not free to live.”

Keep reading...Show less

EPA Abandoned Fracking Investigation, and Will Do it Again

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its multimillion-dollar investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field last month, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike.

Keep reading...Show less

How the Temp Workers Who Keep Huge Corporations Running Are Getting Crushed

It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent.

Keep reading...Show less
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by