“We don’t yet have a national strategy to respond fully to this pandemic,” Bright said Sunday. “The best scientists that we have in our government who are working really hard to try to figure this out aren’t getting that clear, cohesive leadership, strategic plan message yet. Until they get that, it’s still going to be chaotic.”
“We don't yet have a national strategy to respond fully to this pandemic,” says government scientist Rick Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint charging the government’s response to coronavirus has been slow and chaotic. https://t.co/U1L3I1AiXS pic.twitter.com/AdEI5ZUQwp— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) May 17, 2020
Shortly after the program aired, Trump took to Twitter to again describe the concerns of Bright, who led BARDA for four years, as complaints from a “disgruntled employee,” and he reiterated his long-standing call to undo protections for whistleblowers.
“This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely, it is causing great injustice & harm,” the president tweeted. Trump, who has long disdained whistleblowers and has sought to intimidate them, then tagged Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has co-authored whistleblower legislation. “I hope you are listening,” Trump tweeted to Collins.
....This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely, it is causing great injustice & harm. I hope you are listening @SenSusanCollins I also hope that Shari Redstone will take a look at her poorly performing gang. She knows how to make things right!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2020
The interview, the first since Bright testified before Congress last week about the government’s response to the coronavirus, comes as more states reopen during a pandemic that now has nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases in the United States and has caused at least 88,000 deaths.
Bright said he never believed that hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, could be, as Trump framed it in March, “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.”
“And the limited data available told us that it could be dangerous. It could have negative side effects,” he told “60 Minutes.” “And it could even lead to death.”
As Bright outlined in his 89-page whistleblower complaint, he received a directive from the White House to “drop everything” to make the drug “widely available to the American public.” He described the directive as political pressure to force “dozens of federal scientists” to rush to put together a protocol for approving hydroxychloroquine for covid-19 patients.
He became impatient with government officials who “refused to listen,” and he shared his concerns with a reporter about “drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” according to the complaint.
Bright said to CBS News that he believes his reassignment to what he considered a lesser role at the National Institutes of Health is retaliation for speaking out.
“I believe my last-ditch effort to protect Americans from that drug was the final straw that they used and believed was essential to push me out,” Bright said.
There’s now growing evidence suggesting that hydroxychloroquine is more deadly than helpful in treating covid-19. As The Washington Post reported on Friday, a series of clinical trials, academic research and scientific analysis on hydroxychloroquine indicate a significantly increased risk of death for certain patients. In fact, evidence supporting the drug’s effectiveness in treating the virus has been minimal. The developments caused the Food and Drug Administration last month to warn against using hydroxychloroquine outside a hospital setting, a warning that came weeks after the drug was approved for an emergency use authorization.
On Sunday, Bright outlined again, much like he did in his whistleblower complaint, how Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the boss of his department, allegedly downplayed the threat as early as January.
“Why would he do that?” asked correspondent Norah O’Donnell, referring to Azar.
“You know, I don’t know why he would do that,” Bright responded.
The Department of Health and Human Services has publicly rebutted Bright’s claims, saying his complaint was “filled with one-sided arguments and misinformation,” according to “60 Minutes.” The president also questioned Bright’s critique of Azar.
“How can a creep like this show up to work tomorrow & report to @SecAzar, his boss, after trashing him on T.V.?” Trump tweeted, tagging Azar.
Bright responded to Trump’s earlier criticisms of him on “60 Minutes,” saying he was not a disgruntled employee but instead was “frustrated at a lack of leadership.”
“I am frustrated at a lack of urgency to get a head start on developing lifesaving tools for Americans. I’m frustrated at our inability to be heard as scientists,” he said. “Those things frustrate me.”