It looks like President Donald Trump has a new whistleblower complaint controversy on his hands.
At the beginning of the week, Dr. Rick Bright was the director of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a key vaccine-related agency in the federal government’s fight against the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
On Tuesday, Bright was removed from that position and a related post as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
The health and medicine-focused publication STAT first reported on the details of the abrupt and controversial personnel change:
Bright, whose departure was confirmed by three industry sources and two current Trump administration sources, will instead move into a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health. Gary Disbrow, Bright’s former deputy at BARDA, will serve as the acting director of the office, an HHS spokesperson confirmed to STAT.
Now, Dr. Bright claims that he was demoted due to his critique of the Trump administration’s aggressive push for the use of unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” Bright said in a statement released to the media on Wednesday afternoon. “While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public. I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.”
“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” Bright added. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science–not politics or cronyism–has to lead the way.”
The public health expert and physician is currently represented by the law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks–which famously represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018 after she publicly accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
The attorneys are likely working to help the doctor file that aforementioned whistleblower complaint.
Per Bright’s lengthy public statement about his demotion:
I will request that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit. Rushing blindly toward unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths.
Bright’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, later released a statement of their own.
“The Administration’s removal of Dr. Bright from his position as director of BARDA is retaliation plain and simple,” they said. “The results from the Administration’s refusal to listen to the experts and to sideline those like Dr. Bright who point out any errors in the government’s response will continue to be a catastrophe for the American people. We will request that the Office of Special Counsel seek a stay of Dr. Bright’s termination and that Dr. Bright be permitted to remain in his position pending the OSC and IG’s investigation of this unlawful forced transfer.”
Law&Crime reached out to the law firm for a detailed statement on Bright’s next moves but was directed to the public relations firm of SKDKnickerbocker, who later provided a copy of the above-referenced statements.
The high-profile humiliation of a public health official is likely to cause an additional wave of headaches and scorn for the Trump administration amidst the ongoing pandemic and economic slump. Critics quickly took the White House to task for the appearance of impropriety in regards to Bright’s removal.
“Dr. Bright deserves to be heard and given the opportunity to explain what went on behind the scenes developing treatments and a vaccine,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime via email. “People’s lives are at risk, and science, not politics, should win out.”
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this story has been amended post-publication to account for a response from SKD Knickerbocker.
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