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It's a Trap! Congress Wants to See J&J CEO Squirm Over Tylenol Recalls

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) CEO William Weldon has been invited to testify to Congress about the Tylenol recall on June 30. The question is: Will he go?

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform previously asked Weldon to show up on May 27, but J&J's worldwide consumer group chairman Colleen Goggins showed up in his place because he was having back surgery. Weldon may not have that excuse this time around. The invitation letter from Chairman Ed Towns, D-N.Y., includes an attachment that says:

Witnesses with disabilities should contact Committee staff to arrange any necessary accommodations.
  • UPDATE: The hearing was postponed with no explanation; no new date was set.
It's a standard attachment, not specifically directed at Weldon. But if Weldon doesn't go, J&J will have to produce a compelling reason why. On May 13, a little over two weeks before the previous congressional hearing, Weldon did manage to sit and answer a few questions from Fortune magazine for an "I'm sorry" video. The surgery must have taken place between that date and the Congressional hearing.

Towns' second invitation doesn't give any clues about what Weldon might be asked. It relies on boilerplate language, unlike his first invitation which went into some detail and sounded urgent.

Weldon should be prepared to squirm. When Goggins testified, Towns sprung on her documents from the FDA and a J&J contractor showing the company had paid for a "phantom recall" of Motrin, in which "mystery shoppers" secretly bought up all the substandard Motrin they could find on store shelves. Goggins didn't know what the heck Towns was talking about, and promised to get back to him. So Weldon can be expected to elucidate on that incident. Also, why would Towns bother with Weldon if he didn't have something new and juicy to hit him over the head with?

Weldon might also want to take another look at Towns' first invitation to him. It said:

Weldon's presence at this meeting is of the utmost importance ... The parent company must be held accountable for the actions of its subsidiary and the only way to achieve this is by Mr. Weldon's appearance before our committee.
That suggests to me that Towns wont be satisfied until he has Weldon where he wants him. If Weldon begs off on June 30, he can expect a third invite in the mail.

As Admiral Ackbar once said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: It's a trap!


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