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Even muzzled, Martin Shkreli still annoys lawmakers

Martin Shkreli, the former head of a pharmaceutical company that jacked up prices on an AIDS drug, appeared before Congress Thursday. But he didn't have much to say
Martin Shkreli, the former head of a pharmace... 01:11

Martin Shkreli showed up for a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, with the much-vilified former hedge fund manager and Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO pleading his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in repeatedly declining to respond to questions.

That didn't stop members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from expressing outrage, with Maryland's Elijah Cummings lecturing Shkreli on Turing's behavior, which included a decision to increase the price of a life-saving pill to $750 each from $13.50.

As Cummings spoke about how the 5,000 percent increase in the drug Daraprim harmed people, Shkreli smiled, sparking a rebuke from the lawmaker.

"It's not funny Mr. Shkreli, people are dying, and they are getting sicker and sicker," Cummings, the panel's ranking Democrat, said. "Testimony from drug companies today will be the same -- the difference today is we have looked beyond their smoke screen," he added, referring to research by congressional investigators that Turing drove up the price of Daraprim to boost its profits.

While refraining from answer lawmakers, Shkreli did turn to social media to express his views shortly after leaving the hearing.

His insulting tweet drew a quick and taunting response from California Democrat Ted Lieu, a member of the panel that called Shkreli to Capitol Hill.

The tweet was also noted at the hearing itself, with Cummings learning of it as Nancy Retzlaff, Turing's chief commercial officer, was testifying. Loudly referring to an internal company document in which a Turing staffer joked about the price hike, he told the executive: "You all spent all of your time strategizing about how to hide your price increase ... and coming up with stupid jokes while other people were sitting there trying to figure out how they were going to survive."

Around 5 p.m. Shkreli took to another social media site, Blab, to take questions from the general public via video. He was asked questions about testifying before Congress and the pharmaceutical industry.

During the web conference, CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers called into the conference. But Shkreli told him that he would not take questions from the media.

Martin Shkreli declined to answer questions from CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers. CBS News

Shkreli, who has said he is innocent of unrelated securities fraud charges, stood with others on a panel being sworn in following the opening comments.

Other than answering "yes" to one lawmaker asking whether he had pronounced his name correctly, and then to another when asked if he were listening, Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment rights five times before being escorted out of the hearing less than an hour after it began.

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours," Shkreli told Representative Trey Gowdy after the South Carolina Republican suggested Shkreli should be able to respond to questions not related to the criminal case against him.

At one point, Shkreli's new lawyer, high-profile defense attorney Benjamin Brafman tried to address lawmakers as they urged Shkreli to speak, but he was cut off by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, the committee's chairman, who told him to sit down.

Ex-pharma CEO Martin Shkreli hosted a live vi... 01:03

While in the hearing room, Shkreli smiled broadly to the clear annoyance of lawmakers, who continued their criticism after he was dismissed from the proceedings.

Brafman, who told reporters on Wednesday that his client would no longer be speaking to the press until the criminal charges against him were resolved, on Thursday reportedly attempted to deflect how Shkreli came across, saying that much of what was seen could be chalked up to "nervous energy" and that he had meant no disrespect.

"Although Mr. Shkreli followed my advice‎ about making no statements at the hearing, it was very frustrating for him to listen to what he believed to be patently false statements about Turing that he could not respond to because of the pending criminal charges," Brafman said after his client's testimony.

Martin Shkreli laughs during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 4, 2016. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Florida Republican John Mica suggested calling Shkreli into contempt of Congress, an action Chaffetz said he did not intend to do.

Tennessee Republican John Duncan Jr. noted what he called Shkreli's "childish, smart-alecky smirks," saying the 32-year-old had even turned away and posed for pictures as a ranking panel member was speaking.

Duncan said Shkreli's attorney should advise his client against such behavior. "Because a jury would love to convict somebody if he acts that same way on trial."

In another message posted on Twitter following his appearance, Shkreli referred to his facial expressions.

While members of the House panel failed to draw Shkreli out on the subject drug price hikes, the current poster boy for corporate greed did speak about that in an appearance Wednesday on the syndicated radio show called The Breakfast Club.

"The No.1 thing I'd say, in law, because a lot of people don't understand this, it's kind of interesting, you can be prosecuted for not maximizing profits," Shkreli said. "You have to do everything in your power to make as much money as possible, in the system that we've got. That's business."

Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX), another company that has garnered unwanted attention for enormous overnight hikes in the prices of old drugs, took a more conciliatory tone at the hearing, with interim CEO Howard Schiller acknowledging mistakes. "We are listening and changing," he said in his opening remarks before the panel. "In a number of cases, we have been too aggressive" in pricing drugs.

Valeant, which acquired two heart drugs a year ago and immediately hiked the cost of one more than 500 percent and the other 200 percent, defended the moves by claiming that hospitals, not patients, would shoulder the costs.

"Because these drugs are hospital-administered and not purchased by patients directly, increasing the cost of the drugs to hospitals would affect the hospital's profit on these procedures, but it should not reduce patient access," Schiller said in his prepared testimony.

Retzlaff testified that Turing purchased Daraprim because it was "priced far below its market value" and vowed the company would invest in research and development.

The proceedings captured the attention of at least one presidential candidate, who also weighed in on social media.

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