The wife of the second-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services appeared with her husband during an official business trip — at a time she was being paid to lobby the department.
Emily Hargan tweeted a photo from a July 10 press conference at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center centered around a visit by her husband, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan. She has since deleted the tweet.
As first reported by Stat News, Emily Hargan has been paid by three healthcare companies to lobby HHS. According to lobbying registry disclosures, between June and July she was paid $28,000 for lobbying by Nostrum Pharmaceuticals; $10,000 from Smart Meter, which sells blood glucose monitors to people with diabetes; and $10,000 from TL Management, which owns over 100 nursing homes.
All three contracts were still active on the day she appeared with her husband on an official business trip. She has no lobbying disclosures before her HHS work in June of this year.
HHS said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that Eric Hargan has recused himself from dealings with any of the firms that paid his wife and has directed his immediate staff to do the same. HHS said Emily Hargan drove to the event in North Carolina in her personal vehicle because she had personal travel plans in the area and did not attend the nonpublic part of the meeting.
“This was the only time she has attended such an event and Mrs. Hargan is no longer lobbying,” said an HHS spokesperson.
Reached via her cellphone, Emily Hargan declined to comment. “I do not have any comment at this time. I thank you for your call,” she said.
Critics of the administration are questioning the unusual situation of a senior HHS official’s wife lobbying the department. Progressive group Patients Over Pharma said the Hargans appearing at an official event together shows that HHS Secretary Alex Azar is allowing open conflicts of interest under his watch.
“They can delete tweets but they can’t hide the reality of influence-peddling and self-dealing that is sadly all too common in this Trump/Azar health department,” said spokesperson Eli Zupnick. “This is exactly the kind of conflict of interest that needs to be rooted out.”