HHS whistleblower Rick Bright is a ‘disgruntled employee,’ Trump says ahead of House coronavirus hearing

Health, Fitness & Food

Rick Bright, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for Health and Human Services (HHS), speaks during a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Toya Sarno Jordan | Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Thursday tore into ousted federal scientist-turned-whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright just before Bright was set to testify before Congress that the U.S. “missed early warning signals” about the coronavirus.

“I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

“But to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!” Trump said.

Bright in late April was removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and transferred to a job with fewer responsibilities at the National Institutes of Health. He filed a formal whistleblower complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel after his removal.

Lawyers for Bright say he was sidelined in retaliation for his pushback on the Trump administration’s efforts “to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine … which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly.”

In March and April, Trump repeatedly touted the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as possibly being effective treatments for the coronavirus. ”It can help them, but it’s not going to hurt them,” Trump said at a White House press briefing in early April.

But Bright, in a statement first reported by The New York Times following his ouster from BARDA, said he resisted pressure to direct money toward the “potentially dangerous drugs.”

“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” Bright said, the Times reported.

In late April, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers against taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital. The FDA’s warning came after deaths and poisonings were reported in connection with the drugs. 

Bright is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health at 10 a.m. ET.

In his opening statement, Bright is expected to say that Covid-19 could potentially make 2020 the “darkest winter in modern history” if leaders can’t mount a more coordinated response to contain the outbreak.

“Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright’s written testimony says.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

— CNBC’s William Feuer and Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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