President Donald Trump on Thursday tore into ousted federal scientist Dr. Rick Bright just before the whistleblower was set to testify to 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 was scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health at 10 a.m. ET.
In prepared remarks, Bright said that Covid-19 could 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 said.
Bright was removed last month 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 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 as director, said he resisted pressure to spend money on 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.
On April 24, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers against taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital. The warning came after deaths and poisonings were reported in connection with the drugs.
A JAMA Network study released Monday found hydroxychloroquine appears to not help Covid-19 patients – and puts them at an increased risk of suffering heart attacks.
NBC News reported that Bright also felt pressured to put in place a national program geared to expanding access to hydroxychloroquine after the president spoke about the drug with Oracle chairman Larry Ellison, who has raised campaign funds for Trump.
Trump has mentioned the drugs significantly less since late April. But when asked at a press briefing why he stopped promoting them, Trump said, “I haven’t at all. I haven’t at all. What are you say — we’ll see what happens. … We’ve had a lot of very good results and we had some results that perhaps aren’t so good.”