In the days leading up to his big meeting with Congress, disgraced former drug executive Martin Shkreli couldn't wait to, as he put it, "school Congress."
Shkreli is now under investigation for securities fraud unrelated to the price-gouging, but that hasn't stopped the 32-year-old from tweeting, live-streaming from his New York City apartment, and baiting Congress in media interviews. Lawmakers were no doubt just as eager to school him and be seen telling him what's what in a public forum.
It was classic Shkreli as the world knows him -- bold, unapologetic, brash, arrogant.
And then as Shkreli sat down along with four other witnesses Thursday in front of the House oversight committee to testify on prescription drug price-gouging, he suddenly, and uncharacteristically, shut his mouth.
Shkreli, with a smirk that seems to be permanently etched onto his face, pleaded the Fifth Amendment, invoking his constitutional right to stay silent and avoid self-incrimination.
Lawmakers were prepared for this; Shkreli had said earlier this week he planned to follow his lawyers' advice and plead the Fifth. "They just want it to be a circus," he told Fox Business's Maria Bartiromo.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and his buddy and former prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) had a good-cop, bad-cop routine ready to go. It was a made-for-TV courtroom interrogation, but Shkreli kept his mouth shut.
Then they handed it over to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, who tried to shame Shkreli into talking.
But nothing worked, and after about 10 minutes, Chaffetz reluctantly excused Shkreli, who after weeks of baiting Congress for a showdown, had the last word.
Here's the fascinating exchange:
After the other witnesses, including two pharmaceutical officials and one from Shkreli's former company, testified about their company programs to help patients afford expensive drugs, Chaffetz turned to Shkreli and noted that Shkreli hadn't submitted any written testimony.
Does he wish to give any now? Chaffetz asked.
Shkreli: On the advice of counsel, I will not be giving an opening statement.
Chaffetz then dived right into an ethical argument.
Chaffetz: What do you say to that pregnant woman ... who might have AIDS and no income, and she needs Darapim in order to survive? What do you say to her when she has to make those choices?Shkreli: On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.
Chaffetz then tried a different tack, setting up Shkreli with a chance to defend himself. He asked if Shkreli meant what he said when he told Fox News that his former company takes all of its profit and funnels it into research.
Shkreli: On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.Chaffetz: Do you think you did anything wrong?Shkreli: On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.
Next up it was Gowdy's turn, who showed off his skills as former prosecutor and got Shrkeli to say two additional words.
Gowdy: It's pronounced 'Shu-kreli' right?Shkreli: Yes, sir.Gowdy: See, you can answer some questions. That one didn't incriminate you. Not all of your answers are going to subject you to incrimination you understand that, don't you?Shkreli: I intend to follow the advice of my counsel. Not yours.
Gowdy tried a legal tack: Making the argument that the Fifth Amendment might only apply to cases where you actually risk incriminating yourself. After all, Shkreli isn't under indictment for rising drug prices, Gowdy pointed out.
Shkreli didn't budge, and Gowdy gave up: "Mr. Chairman, I'm vexed. He's been willing to answer at least one question this morning that won't subject him to incrimination. … I listened to his interview, and he didn't have to be prodded to do that, and he didn't have to be prodded to tweet, and he didn't have to be prodded to show his life on that little webcam he got. ... And what about that Wu-Tang Clan album you bought for $2 million, Gowdy asked him?
Shkreli said nothing.
Gowdy: I am stunned that a conversation about an album he purchased could possibly subject him to incrimination.
At this point, Shkreli's lawyer -- he recently hired a new one -- stood up from the seats behind the witness table and asked to say something.
Chaffetz immediately shut him down.
Chaffetz: No. You will not be recognized. You will be seated.
Then Chaffetz handed things over to Cummings, who said he would respect Shkreli's constitutional right.
Cummings: Honestly, I didn't even know if you would show up today, so it's nice to see you.
But even if he couldn't get Shkreli to open up, Cummings couldn't resist trying to lecture him.
Cummings: But since I have you in front of me after trying to get you in front of this committee for so long, let me say this: I want to ask you -- no, I want to plead with you -- to use any remaining influence you have over your former company to press them to lower the prices of these drugs.
Shkreli turned his head to his left and stared at a spot on the floor.
Cummings: You can look away if you like.Shkreli's head snapped back.
Cummings: But I wish you could see the faces of these people … who cannot get the drugs they need. ... You are in a unique position, really you are. You have a spotlight and you have a platform you could use that attention to come clean, to right your wrongs and become the most effective patient advocate in the country, and one that would make a big difference in so many people's lives.
Shkreli's smirk had returned.
Cummings: I know you're smiling. But I'm very serious. The way I see it, you could go down in history as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives or you could change the system. Yeah, you.
Shkreli's smirk had turned into a full-on grin.
Cummings: Are you listening?Shkreli: Yes.Cummings: I truly believe you could become a force of tremendous good. Of course you can ignore this if you like, but all I ask is that you reflect on it. No, I don't ask, Mr. Shkreli. I beg of you that you reflect on it.
Now Shkreli had a somber face. He had picked up a pencil and was bouncing it off a pad of paper in front of him.
Cummings: There's so many people who could use your help. May God bless you.
And with that, Shkreli was dismissed, and the hearing went on.
After he left, he tweeted this:
Politico's John Bresnahan said it all:
I've been covering Capitol Hill for 20 years. Never seen a witness act like Martin Shkreli. I'm stunned, tbh— John Bresnahan (@bresreports) February 4, 2016
Correction: This article originally misstated which network Maria Bartiromo's show is on. It is Fox Business.