WASHINGTON – Vaccine expert Rick Bright, who said he was ousted from his position after raising concerns about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, pushed back against President Donald Trump’s claim that he is disgruntled, instead saying he is “frustrated” with the government.
Bright is the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who filed a whistleblower complaint Tuesday alleging longstanding political influence at the Department of Health and Human Services that assigned him to another job at the National Institutes of Health last month.
He told CBS News that he is “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. Those things frustrate me.”
In his complaint, Bright said he was ousted after raising concerns about a drug Trump touted as a potential treatment for coronavirus. Bright also said he raised alarms about the need to ramp up production of face masks and other personal protective equipment with White House officials as far back as January.
Trump had said of Bright that he doesn’t know who he is, “but to me he’s a disgruntled employee and if people are that unhappy they shouldn’t work.”
He added, “I hadn’t heard great things about him.”
The Office of Special Counsel, which protects whistleblowers, is also recommending that while it investigates whether the administration retaliated against Bright’s complaints when removing him, that he be reinstated for 45 days, his lawyers said Friday.
Bright claims in the report that he met with White House officials as far back as Beb. 8 to warn about the coronavirus and that he emphasized the need to “secure N-95 masks and to ramp up mask production,” as well as other equipment.
Bright is expected to testify before the House Energy Subcommittee on Health on May 14, his lawyers said.
Soon after Trump touted hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 treatment, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned against the use of after clinical trials indicated a risk of heart rhythm problems.
In the CBS interview, Bright said the government’s response to producing more ventilators and personal protective equipment has been detrimental: “We see too many doctors and nurses now dying, and I was thinking that we could have done more to get those masks and those supplies to them sooner. And if we had, would they still be alive today?”
He added, “It’s a horrible thought to think about the time that passed where we could’ve done something and we didn’t.”
Contributing: David Jackson, John Fritze, Elizabeth Weise