Whistleblower Who Called Out Trump COVID Screw Ups Settles Case With HHS

Dr. Rick Bright testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on May 14, 2019. (Photo by SHAWN THEW/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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August 9, 2021 4:25 p.m.

A former top vaccine official, who had sued the Trump administration for allegedly demoting him as retaliation for his criticism of its COVID response, has reached a settlement with the Department of Health and Human Services.

The case of Dr. Rick Bright has stood as an example of the Trump administration’s politicized response to COVID and the extent it would go to punish those who spoke out against it.

Bright filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint after he was demoted in April 2020, during the initial COVID onslaught.

“I am grateful to have resolved my employment claims so I can focus all of my attention on my lifelong career goal: containing global outbreaks and preventing pandemics to ensure the world never again suffers the consequences we have seen over the past 18 months,” said Bright, who served on President Joe Biden’s transition team but no longer works in government, said in a statement on Monday.

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The HHS confirmed the settlement and applauded Bright for his service as director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which was his role before he was demoted after pushing back against the Trump administration’s politically motivated handling of COVID-19.

“The Agency would like to thank Dr. Bright for his dedicated public service and for the contributions he made to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic while he served as BARDA Director,” the department said. “We wish him well in his new endeavors.”

Bright’s attorney, Debra Katz, asserted that her client had “sounded the alarm” on the Trump administration’s “reckless and chaotic response” to the pandemic.

Katz told the New York Times that Bright will receive back pay along with compensation for “emotional stress and reputational damage.” It is unclear how much exactly Bright will receive.

Bright’s announcement notes that he is cooperating with the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) ongoing investigation into his allegations that HHS officials’ response to COVID-19 was swayed by what they believed would help Trump politically rather than hard science.

Bright claimed that he was demoted from his BARDA position for rejecting hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug Trump and his allies repeatedly touted as a miracle drug for COVID-19, last year.

The former official also alleged that the Trump administration spent weeks neglecting to stock up on key supplies and drugs and failed to come up with a “master plan” to deal with the pandemic.

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