NEW YORK — President Trump’s health secretary commended police for arresting a West Virginia reporter who shouted questions to him.
“They did what they felt was appropriate,” Secretary Tom Price said when he was asked about it at a press conference on Wednesday.
“That gentleman was not in a press conference,” he added. “We were walking down a hall, and Capitol Police acted as they thought necessary.”
Dan Heyman, a reporter for Public News Service, was arrested Tuesday at the state Capitol. He said he was trying to get Price to comment about the effort by Republicans in Congress to repeal Obamacare.
Heyman said he asked a question about pre-existing conditions several times as he and Price walked through a hallway, but Price never responded. Then, according to Heyman, a member of Price’s Secret Service detail signaled to Capitol police to remove him.
The reporter was arrested and charged with willful disruption of governmental processes, a misdemeanor. He was released on a $5,000 bond after being held for nearly eight hours. If found guilty, he could be forced to pay a fine of at least $100 and face jail time of up six months.
Heyman, 54, said that until he was arrested, it was a typical reporter scrum.
“They may not have seen my press pass right away but when I was arrested, I told them, ‘I’m a reporter, just here doing my job,'” Heyman told CNNMoney. He said that while he thinks it was wrong to have him arrested, he doesn’t think the arrest was a planned attempt to stifle the press.
“I think there’s an antipathy towards the press and a natural, healthy tendency to want to physically protect public servants,” he said. “It’s fair for a member of the cabinet to have security. It’s not fair for that security to protect them from uncomfortable questions.”
The police report says that Heyman “was aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him.” Heyman said he was reaching over the agents with his phone to record any comment Price might make. The spokesman for the Capitol Police denied Heyman was arrested for performing his job as a reporter.
“It was his physical action and not that he was asking questions, that crossed the line,” said Lawrence Messina, who was a statehouse reporter for the Associated Press before joining West Virginia’s department of military affairs and public safety. He said protesters have been arrested in the statehouse in the past, but he wasn’t aware of any reporter arrests.
The Price incident isn’t the only time that police have shut down a disruption at an event featuring a member of the Trump administration. In January, a protester was arrested in Washington, D.C. after laughing during the confirmation hearing for Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The activist, Desiree Fairooz, was found guilty last week of two counts of unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds. She’ll be sentenced next month and could face jail time.
Heyman’s arrest has already prompted protests from other groups, including the West Virginia chapter of the ALCU.
“This is a dangerous time in our country. Freedom of the press is being eroded every day,” said the group. “Mr. Heyman’s arrest is a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press. The charges against him are outrageous, and they must be dropped immediately.”
Heyman said that being in jail and talking to other people who were being held was “kind of interesting, a bit of an education.”
“The main thing that goes on in jail is boredom,” he said.