Bright Complaint Illuminates How Trump Administration Corruption Stunted Coronavirus Response

Dr. Rick Bright, ousted director of the office responsible for developing coronavirus vaccines and treatments, has filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and that his removal was retaliation for his reluctance to push the drug treatment favored by President Donald Trump.

Since 2016 Bright led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) before resigning after being demoted to another position. Bright raised concerns about US preparedness for coronavirus starting in January but, per his complaint, faced “indifference which then developed into hostility” by leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He resisted on HHS’s leadership when they sought to make “potentially harmful drugs” available for treating Covid-19. These include hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which Trump pushed as a likely cure despite a lack of appropriate scientific testing.

The complaint alleges that Dr. Bright’s “efforts to prioritize science and safety over political expediency and to expose practices that posed a substantial risk to public health and safety, especially as it applied to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, rankled those in the Administration who wished to continue to push this false narrative.”

One of the concerns the Complaint expresses regarding the flood of hydroxychloroquine was that much of the drug came “from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA.”

The Complaint alleges that in mid-January Bright repeatedly urged his superiors to make getting actual virus samples a priority, emphasizing that development of medical countermeasures (including testing) for the virus would require this. He was ignored.

Bright also pushed for money for mask procurement, his request for urgent funding set off a “shit storm” at a January 23d meeting Bright was excluded from. Quoting from the complaint:

On January 23, 24 and 25, 2020, Mr. Bowen from Prestige Ameritech repeatedly emailed Dr. Bright and Dr. Wolf to sound the alarm yet again about the mask shortages. HHS failed to act yet again to address this impending emergency. On January 25, Mr. Bowen wrote Dr. Bright and Dr. Wolf that his company was “getting lots of requests from China and Hong Kong.” He then explained that nearly 50% of masks in the United States are imported from Chinese manufacturers, and “[i]f the supply stops, US hospital will run out of masks. No way to prevent it . . . The next morning, Mr. Bowen emailed Dr. Bright that the “U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk.” . . . Dr. Bright forwarded this dire warning to Dr. Kadlec, Dr. [Laura] Wolf, Dr. Falcon, Dr. Disbrow, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Adams, and others, so they could see the basis for his alarm and insistence that action be taken at once . . . Dr. Bright wrote Mr. Bowen that stating: “I know that our critical infrastructure protection team has been in contact with you.” The next morning, Mr. Bowen responded, “I’ve spoken with Laura [Wolf]. Rick, I think we’re in deep shit . . . [On January 29th Two days later, Mr. Bowen of Prestige Ameritech sent yet another email to Dr. Bright and Dr. Wolf, once again issuing a dire warning about the imminent mask shortage. Id. Among other things, he advised “[t]his week, we sent 1,000,000 masks to China and Hong Kong. He continued, “[i]n all my years of predicting the US mask supply would one day collapse, I never pictured myself selling masks to China…. I have it from two reliable sources that China has begun telling Chinese mask makers not to let masks leave China.” He concluded, “I think China will cut off masks to the USA. If so, US hospitals are going to have a very rough time, as up to half of the supply is made in China. A horrible situation will become unbearable.”

That’s in January folks and those emails are attached to the complaint. Put simply, Dr. Bright, along with the Mike Bowen, the Vice President of a leading supply company for PPE, was warning this Administration in very strong terms about the “horrible” dangers of a mask shortage before February even started. Time was lost as a corrupt Administration dithered and denied the threat.

The one drug so far found to have some efficacy, Remdesivir, also enters into the complaint as Bright alleges he foresaw its potential and warned about shortages of it as well. Again, quoting from the Complaint:

Dr. Bright became concerned about the limited supply of Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication developed by Gilead Sciences (“Gilead”) that appeared, based on limited data coming from China and some laboratory-based testing, to lower the number of days it took patients to recover from COVID-19. After reviewing available scientific and medical literature, Dr. Bright and HHS and global clinicians determined that Remdesivir had the highest probability of an existing drug for being efficacious for treating people with COVID-19. He further determined that Gilead’s supply of the drug was low — it had only a few thousand doses of the drug on hand and the timeline to manufacture more was lengthy. He repeatedly advised Dr. Kadlec and other HHS officials of the urgent need to acquire the existing doses and to secure future doses as they were produced. He also strongly recommended that HHS work with Gilead to “on-shore” all steps of the Remdesivir supply chain.

Bright’s recommendations “only escalated tensions with HHS leadership, which apparently wished to downplay the risk of the virus” and had its own agenda, imposed by the President, to push drugs unlikely to work.

The Complaint does speak very highly of Peter Navarro the White House Trade Advisor, who shared Bright’s sense of urgency for the issue. Bright describes how some action was taken by the White House Coronavirus task force once Navarro got Bright to speak to it by circumventing the people at HHS. The real “villains” in the story are Doctors Kadlec and Wolf, and HHS Secretary Azar.

While the Complaint does not focus on Trump it does state indicate that Trump pushed an improbable drug because it was made by a big donor to his campaign:

“President Trump falsely stated during a White House press conference that clinical trials of chloroquine and/or hydroxychloroquine were producing ‘very, very encouraging early results’ and promised the American public that his Administration was ‘going to be able to make [chloroquine and/or hydroxychloroquine] available almost immediately. . . Media reports from the time period indicate that Mr. [Larry] Ellison [President of company that manufactured the drug], a prominent Trump donor, helped convince President Trump that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could effectively treat COVID-19.”

This resulted in the push from the top that the bad actors closer to Bright responded to. That push led to HHS taking steps that effectively nullified the warnings and restrictions put on hydroxychloroquine by the CDC. Quoting from the Complaint again:

the Administration would stop at nothing to make the experimental drug widely available to the American people, no matter the consequences — not because it was safe or effective, but because as ASPR’s Joe Hamel stated, it was seen by the Administration as “a BIG immediate win.” At this point, Dr. Bright had exhausted all efforts to protect patients from the Administration’s embrace of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19

As a result, when a reporter contacted Bright, he talked to the reporter about the dangers and what the administration was doing that he believed endangered public safety. The complaint asserts:

Dr. Bright’s disclosures to the journalist are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”), 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8)(A) (protecting employees who disclose information that reveals “any violation of any law, rule, or regulation,” or “a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety”); Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, 574 U.S. 383, 393 (2015) (federal employee’s disclosures to reporter about dangerous agency activity were protected under Whistleblower Protection Act).

I have previously written how Trump Administration corruption in covering up this looming crisis made it worse. The corruption extended to ignoring those who sounded the warnings. The corruption extended to ignoring those who warned of an imminent PPE shortage and their efforts to address it. The corruption extended to interfering with scientific efforts to find the best medicine in favor of an improbable drug made by a heavy donor to the President.

This is corruption responsible for the deaths of many, many Americans and the ruin of our economy.

In the complaint, Bright seeks reinstatement as BARDA’s director and is asking for a full investigation. With over 70,000 Americans dead, and dying at a pace of around 2,000 per day, an investigation should be supported by all. Let America not be as blind as our President.

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Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80

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