WASHINGTON – A comment by Sen. Bill Frist (search) made to The Washington Post regarding the majority leader's stock probe was taken out of context and appeared to be an effort to malign him, the Tennessee senator's spokesman said Monday.
Bob Stevenson (search), spokesman for Frist, R-Tenn., told FOX News that the comment used by The Washington Post reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, a FOX News contributor, appeared to be an attempt "to imply that some impropriety took place, and nothing could be further from the truth."
The front-page article reported Stevenson saying that "he [Frist] could have been more exact in his comments" when he told a CNBC reporter in January 2003 that "So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock."
HCA is the nation's largest for-profit hospital company founded in 1968 by Frist's father and brother and owned in part by Frist's family. Frist added in the interview that the trust was "totally blind" and he had no control over it. The stock shares were put into a blind trust in 1994 when Frist was elected to the Senate.
The Washington Post article reported that documents show Frist was notified about his stake in HCA two weeks before he made the television appearance.
Frist aides say that since he's considering a bid for president in 2008, Frist wanted to divest himself of the family company. But Frist's sale of millions of dollars from the blind trust is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors. Frist has denied wrongdoing and acting on insider information.
Frist, one of the wealthiest senators in Congress, ordered the stock to be sold about two weeks before the health care firm released a poor earnings forecast that drove its share price down almost 16 percent. Company executives and other officials also sold about $112 million of shares.
Stevenson said he was speaking to the Post reporter on how Frist "could have been more exact in his comments" in general about the way notices are sent by trustees about modifications in trusts. Stevenson said it's unlikely Frist would have even seen the notices.
"They very likely went to his accountant, because he'd already directed the sale of the stock to be done at a time determined by his trustee, in accordance with federal law," Stevenson told FOX News. "You can't say when the stock is to be sold, but you can ask that you be divested of the stock."
Stevenson added that at any given time, the makeup of a trust cannot be known by the owner, except when something is "zeroed out or added."
He also reiterated that like the article headline suggests, Frist was likely "Notified of Stock in 'Blind' Trusts" as that is something that occurs automatically according to federal law. He said most of the time, those notifications are sent to Frist's accountant, who wouldn't need to inform the senator of the notice because the senator had already requested the activity be carried out.
"If anyone knows Bill Frist, they know that money is not a top concern for him at all," Stevenson added, repeating assertions that the senator had no involvement in the timing of the stock sale.
FOX News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.