Whistleblower complaint draws attention to Trump administration's flawed COVID-19 response

WION Web Team
New York, New York, United States of America Published: May 08, 2020, 11.04 AM(IST)

US President Donald Trump Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Whistleblower Rick Bright, whose lawyers filed the complaint with the US Office of Special Counsel, is expected to testify about his allegations next week to Congress.

A whistleblower has drawn attention to how United States President Donald Trump responded to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The complaint by Rick Bright, who headed a federal agency called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, until April 20, has said the Trump administration retaliated against a scientist who sent early coronavirus warnings. The case also provides an insider account of the dysfunction critics say paralysed the Department of Health and Human Services at the dawn of the COVID-19 response.

Bright, whose lawyers filed the complaint with the US Office of Special Counsel, is expected to testify about his allegations next week to Congress.

The new complaint says HHS Secretary Alex Azar and his top aides dismissed experts’ warnings about the impending epidemic, failed to implement vital procedures and got sidetracked with political backbiting.

The whistleblower complaint asserts Harrison and Deputy Chief of Staff Judy Stecker blocked Bright, the government’s top vaccine expert, from key HHS meetings in January. 

Bright’s complaint was on Tuesday the subject of media reports for its description of the administration's scramble to make malaria drugs available at Trump’s behest. The complaint also offers fresh details that haven’t been highlighted. 

It shows how tensions between public health agencies likely delayed a more aggressive early government response.

When Bright pushed top management in late January to move aggressively, the complaint said, HHS leaders “responded with surprise at his dire predictions and urgency, and asserted that the United States would be able to contain the virus and keep it out of the United States.”

In an email to a colleague in January, Bright wondered why his group was left out but noted that other health agencies were involved, so his was an “obvious group to cut if shrinking the table. But we have a significant role.”

In his whistleblower complaint, he said it became clear to him why he was pushed aside. “It was obvious that Bright’s persistent demands for urgent action to respond to the pandemic had caused a ‘shit storm’ and a ‘commotion’ and were unwelcome in the office of the HHS Secretary.

Consequently, HHS leadership excluded Dr. Bright and BARDA from these recurring meetings and from the critical discussions about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Reuters earlier reported, Harrison had also blocked the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Stephen Hahn, from a White House task force set up in January to address the public health crisis.

In his complaint, Bright also asserts the federal government didn’t initiate a key disaster procedure until the fourth week of January. 

The complaint also recounts a frustrating attempt to get samples of the actual virus from China, which Bright says “were critical to begin development of vaccines, diagnostics, and medicines.” He said he pushed HHS officials on January 10, 21 and 23 “to obtain sequencing and virus samples from China, to no avail.”

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