Lawyers for Dr. Rick Bright announced Thursday that their client will file a whistleblower complaint based on the top vaccine official’s allegations he was ousted from his post for pushing back against President Donald Trump’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine.
Bright plans to file the complaint with both the Office of Special Counsel and the Health and Human Services inspector general, according to a statement from attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks. The complaint will detail Bright’s allegation that he was ousted as director of the agency responsible for developing the drugs to fight the coronavirus pandemic in retaliation for raising science-based concerns about White House pressure on treatment and vaccines.
“In our filing we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only ― because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly,” the attorneys’ statement read. “The facts and concerns raised by Dr. Bright are compelling and well-documented and soon they will be public.”
A spokesperson for HHS did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Bright told The New York Times in a report published Wednesday that he had clashed with HHS “political leadership” over his resistance to funding “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.” According to the Times report, Bright said he specifically limited the “broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine,” the latter a drug used to treat malaria.
Trump has repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, despite scientific evidence not supporting that claim. At least one recent study of 368 patients showed that there were no benefits of using hydroxychloroquine, and that more patients who received the drug died than those who received standard care.
The disagreement in drug use, according to Bright, led to his removal as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is the HHS agency in charge of the federal government’s effort to develop vaccines. Bright had been with the agency since 2010 and served as its director since 2016, but was reassigned to the National Institutes of Health in what he said was a smaller role.
When asked about Bright during Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Trump told reporters that he had “never heard” of the doctor ― a response he’s given regarding others in the past.
“The administration is now making demonstrably false statements about Dr. Bright, one of the nation’s leading vaccine, drug and diagnostic experts, to deflect attention from its retaliatory removal of him as the Director of [BARDA],” Katz and Banks said in their statement.
The attorneys both previously represented Christine Blasey Ford, who caught the nation’s attention when she alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
Trump has had a bumpy history with inspectors general, who are tasked with being watchdogs of the federal government. The intelligence whistleblower in the Ukraine scandal that eventually led to Trump’s impeachment had used the same route for his complaint: a report to the appropriate agency’s inspector general, who then had to decide whether the complaint was “urgent” enough to send to Congress. The intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, was recently fired for deciding to send the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
Earlier this month, Trump questioned the independence of HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm after the watchdog released a report detailing supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals responding to the pandemic across the country. The president claimed without evidence that the report was wrong and that Grimm was biased against him.
Just weeks ago, the president removed acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was set to provide oversight of the government’s $2 trillion coronavirus response law along with nine other inspectors general. Trump replaced Fine on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee with Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Sean O’Donnell.
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