Subpoenas Authorized

In Frist Stock-Sale Probe

Securities and Exchange Commission officials have voted to authorize the SEC enforcement staff to send out subpoenas in an investigation of the sale of stock in the HCA Inc. hospital chain by a blind trust held for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and his family, a few weeks before the share price fell 9 percent in one day.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment on the investigation. The vote, by two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, makes the probe a formal one and gives the staff the power to subpoena telephone records and other materials.

Through spokesmen, Frist and Nashville-based HCA, which was founded by the senator's father and brother, have said they are cooperating with investigators. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is also investigating.

The Senate's 54 other Republicans rallied to the majority leader's defense yesterday, applauding him after he used a private luncheon in the Capitol to explain his role in the stock sale.

"He basically walked through everything that he went through" in selling the stock, Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) told reporters. "And based on what he told us in there, he did everything by the book. There's no chance for anybody if he did anything wrong."

George V. Voinovich (Ohio), chairman of the Senate ethics committee, told reporters: "I don't think this is an ethics question . . . It's an SEC question."

AIDS Program Awards

Distribution Contract

The Bush administration's global AIDS program is awarding a $77 million contract to a consortium of 15 organizations to manage the logistics and ensure that drugs and services are delivered efficiently.

The Partnership for Supply Chain Management will work with government and charitable organizations delivering AIDS treatment and prevention in 15 "target countries" in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Services include bulk purchase of antiretroviral drugs, test kits and other medicine; forecasting needs for supplies and expertise; and training and equipment for storing, protecting and delivering AIDS drugs.

Some global AIDS experts have said the administration is effectively duplicating the system being put together by other countries, United Nations agencies and private charities. But Mark Dybul, deputy director of the $15 billion, five-year administration AIDS plan, said countries will not be forced to use the Partnership's services. Countries will be able to use them only for tasks they cannot provide efficiently.

The Partnership will be led by John Snow Inc. and Management Sciences for Health.

For the Record

* An estimated 1.9 million voters cast provisional ballots in 2004, taking advantage of a major election reform enacted after the 2000 contest, according to a study by Election Data Services released by the Election Assistance Commission. The 2002 Help America Vote Act was designed to address numerous complaints from people who said they were denied the right to vote in 2000 when poll judges could not find their names on lists of registered voters. The law required election officials to permit the casting of provisional ballots under these circumstances, with the vote's legitimacy to be determined later. About 1.2 million provisional ballots were ruled legitimate.

* The government is preparing to ban imports of beluga caviar to try to help prevent extinction of the sturgeon that produces the prized eggs. Trade also would be suspended in beluga sturgeon flesh, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

-- From Staff Reports

and News Services