President Donald Trump’s trade adviser, who features prominently in a lengthy whistleblower complaint on the administration’s response to COVID-19, declined an invitation to testify at a House hearing on the matter.
Dr. Rick Bright, who until recently was the head of a crucial research and development office in the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a lengthy complaint last week that Navarro was a lonely voice in the Trump administration pushing to prepare for the pandemic in early February.
Bright last week was reassigned as director of BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, to a position at the National Institutes of Health. The Office of Special Counsel recommended last week that Bright’s move be delayed until his complaint can be investigated more fully, Bright’s lawyers said.
The White House declined the invitation to have Navarro testify “based on the longstanding precedent, followed by administrations of both political parties, rooted in clearly established constitutional doctrines, and supported by the Department of Justice, that senior advisors to the President generally do not testify before Congress,” spokesperson Judd Deere told the Washington Post.
Bright’s whistleblower complaint painted Navarro as a key voice in the administration, and an ally to Bright, warning that more should be done to prepare for COVID-19. In early February, as the pandemic’s threat to the United States remained a little-discussed news item, “Navarro shared Dr. Bright’s sense of urgency, recognized his expertise, and was prepared to help,” Bright’s complaint read. But Bright, Navarro and others ran into political and bureaucratic obstacles, according to Bright’s complaint.
In one instance cited in the complaint, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, Bright’s superior Robert Kadlec, referred to Bright’s briefing Navarro as his “Weekend at Peter’s.”
After more of Bright’s briefings on supply chain issues in February and March led to several urgent White House memos from Navarro, “HHS’s leadership acted with increased hostility towards Dr. Bright and made disparaging comments about the pressure they were receiving from ‘Rick’s friend’ in the White House,” Bright’s complaint alleged.
The Post obtained a copy of Rep. Anna Eshoo’s (D-CA) invitation for Navarro to testify on Thursday before the House Energy Subcommittee on Health. Bright will be there to discuss his complaint.
Eshoo described Navarro to the Post as “a key figure in Dr. Bright’s whistleblower complaint and is a high-level authority in the Trump administration who took Dr. Bright’s warnings seriously.”
“It’s unfortunate the administration is not willing to make witnesses available to the House,” she said.
Kadlec and HHS secretary Alex Azar have also received Eshoo’s invitations but neither plan on testifying, the Post reported citing an unnamed White House aide.
Bright’s complaint also alleged that Trump administration officials applied political pressure in order to make the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump had boosted as a potential treatment for COVID-19, widely available to Americans for off-label use.