WASHINGTON — It may have been Rick Bright’s best day in two months.

The ousted vaccine expert, fired from his post atop the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in April, was called to testify before Congress about the whistleblower complaint he recently filed against the Trump administration. And in more than three hours of grilling, Bright calmly denounced the Trump administration and deftly parried attacks from Republicans, leaving him looking like the even-keeled scientist his allies insist he is.

It could have been much worse: Since he came forward, Trump officials and allies have worked to cast doubt on Bright and his allegations. Earlier on Thursday, President Trump denounced him as “disgruntled,” and the health department implied in a statement he was a grifter and a liar. An agency statement said Bright’s visibility into the Trump administration’s response was limited and his concerns were thus overblown, and that he did not raise his complaints through the proper channels.

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His tenure at BARDA more broadly was also not without controversy; drug companies complained about the agency’s work under Bright, and earlier this week, Politico reported that some staffers who worked under Bright had raised concerns about his leadership style, with one formal complaint even referring to “abuse.”  Those factors could call into question Bright’s claims that he was ousted solely due to his whistleblowing over the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.

The hearing, for the most part, focused on Bright’s account of the Trump administration’s delays and failures in the early days of the U.S. coronavirus response. His opening statement focused on his predictions that “without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.” He reiterated his concerns, too, about the unproven Covid-19 treatment, hydroxychloroquine.

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Republicans, for their part, repeatedly implied Bright was telling a one-sided story. Their evidence: the suggestion that Bright had intentionally left noteworthy emails out of his whistleblower complaint. The Department of Health and Human Services has insisted Bright had initially praised hydroxychloroquine, and one former Trump official has suggested to STAT that Bright did so in an email that has not yet been made public. Republicans also insisted that if Bright had concerns with HHS leadership, he should have taken the highly unusual step of raising them directly with Capitol Hill.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) was among the first to directly challenge Bright’s claim that the Trump administration was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic. She came armed with specific examples of supposed planning, like the existence of a government panel, the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE), that is tasked with planning for exactly these scenarios.

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Bright had a striking response.

“Since 2017, we have largely disbanded, dismantled the PHEMCE organization. We have not had those interagency discussions for a number of years,” he said. “The partners and colleagues across government haven’t had those venues to even talk or coordinate for a number of years.”

Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) came armed with perhaps the most head-scratching bit of evidence that he insisted disproved Bright’s claims: The fact that Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, was allowed to testify earlier this week before the Senate.

“If [HHS] leadership was so hostile to scientific integrity, as you alleged, how do you explain Dr. Fauci being allowed to testify forthrightly?” Long asked.

“I’m saying that my supervisor was not following proper scientific processes that we have in place for BARDA,” Bright replied. “I’m not actually saying the administration is hostile against scientific integrity in all cases.”

CNN has reported that the White House barred Fauci from testifying before the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

A number of the claims in Bright’s whistleblower complaint center around his alleged unwillingness to help the government green-light the widespread use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has not been proven effective as a treatment for Covid-19. Since Bright’s ouster, the Food and Drug Administration has warned against using hydroxychloroquine in late April, though clinical trials thoroughly vetting the drug’s efficacy are still ongoing. Republicans at the hearing suggested Bright should never have opposed hydroxychloroquine in the first place. At least three GOP lawmakers cited anecdotal evidence about hydroxychloroquine’s success when they questioned Bright. Some claimed to have heard of cured patients; others minimized potentially deadly side effects.

Bright, each time, stuck to his message: He always believed hydroxychloroquine should be tested in trials and proven before anyone moved to roll it out widely.

“I’ve heard those anecdotal stories as well,” Bright told Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). “It is very difficult to understand data from those types of observational studies or anecdotal stories. So, the drug might have some benefit in some populations but we won’t know that until we have that information from a truly randomized controlled clinical study.”

Republicans’ struggles to land a punch against Bright were all the more striking after HHS issued a veritable cheat sheet for lawmakers this morning, putting forth its best evidence for disproving a number of Bright’s claims.

HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo even took to responding in real time to many of Bright’s claims via Twitter. He tweeted more than 20 times during the hearing, even including Google Maps directions to Bright’s new office in a pointed tweet about Bright taking sick leave since he filed his whistleblower complaint.

Bright did, however, stumble on that point Thursday when questioned by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oka.) about his claims of having stress-induced hypertension.

“You say you have hypertension, but yet you were able to do these interviews, you were able to make the report, you were able to prepare for this hearing, yet you’re too sick to go into work … while you’re still getting paid from the United States government, is that correct?” Mullin asked.

“This has been very stressful,” Bright said.

  • If government has any sense at all they had better listen to Dr Bright, Dr Fauci and the CDC, otherwise we are not going to have a country. We won’t have any one left to govern and no one in government to govern if there is any one left!!!
    STOP LISTENING TO TRUMP!!! Get him and his followers out of the White House!!!

  • I think Mullins did not receive a heart moving through the line that was assembling homo sapiens. Your nonstop pounding on Dr. Bright was indefensible, out of line and unbecoming a representative of your constituency and the U.S. Congress. ” I applaud Dr Bright to willingly testify at a hearing sure to raise his hypertension due to comments/questions by those defending Trump’s incompetence and extreme disregard of American lives.”

  • we should keep his firing in perspective ; he was not actually fired but transferred to another dept. based upon civil service protections probably at the same pay and benefits ; then compare that situation with the 33 million unemployed Americans with many on food lines waiting hours for boxes of dry goods and hoping they do not run out before their turn

    • Come on your diversion won’t work………………how would he be transferred by a POTUS who doesn’t have clue what is going on………nor does he care.I agree r=that the people suffering should be our primary interest if only Trump did……………………now stop trying to cover for him the whole World knows the truth.FYI we need this man to work on a vaccine did you know that?

  • When will someone tell why “agent orange” the toxic one was pushing this drug? He had a financial interest in it of course.
    I think I will never understand a Trump supporter…………are they so hateful and jealous of decent people trying to live their lives that they could care less who dies?And they do this all for a man who wouldn’t piss on them is they were on fire.To Pam ::: do you realize how fortunate you are to not have trump as your leader?????

  • As a Canadian, watching a courageous man, scientist and doctor try to keep the American people safe is painful. Good luck Dr. Bright and thank you from the global community for your integrity.

  • Mr. Bright brought forward so many instances of the administration ignoring science, ignoring critical warnings because they weren’t “good politics”. Even the self-proclaimed Republican Trump supporting businessman said Bright was honest and forthright in everything he said.
    Republicans brought up the fact that Dr. Fauci was allowed to testify I before the Senate, but failed to mention that he was not allowed to testify before the House of Representatives.
    Another case of Republicans politicizing the pandemic. Instead of trying to learn from past mistakes, Republicans want to shoot the messenger!
    Isn’t it time we forget the politics and develop a unified leadership to defeat this virus??

    • Both parties politicize the pandemic. What a stupid a narrow minded comment. Your comment is political too.

  • Funny how those politicians lambasted Bright on getting paid while seemingly not working and earning the money. My oh my, that is rich!
    Then, receiving a cheat sheet to dispel Bright’s assertions

  • Funny how those politicians lambasted Bright on getting paid while seemingly not working and earning the money. My oh my, that is rich!
    Then, receiving a cheat sheet from HHS to dispel his facts and issues about this administration’s response, or lack there of, in handling Covid19.

  • “Bright did however stumble on that point Thursday when questioned by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oka.) about his claims of having stress-induced hypertension.

    “You say you have hypertension but yet you were able to do these interviews, you were able to make the report, you were able to prepare for this hearing, yet you’re too sick to go into work … while you’re still getting paid from the United States government, is that correct?” Mullin asked.

    “This has been very stressful,” Bright said.

    JL: I applaud Dr Bright to willingly place his own health at risk to testify at a hearing sure to raise his hypertension due to comments/questions by those defensing Dump’s incompetence and extreme disregard of American lives.
    He proved that “saving American lives was more important than his own health”….yet what did he get from the rethugiclans but a bunch of bull.
    Hence, I don’t view his answer as a “stumble” to such a ridiculous and insensitive statement by Markwayne Mullin.
    SMH.

    • Trump has little regard for human life. He uttered: people die all the time. what if I am the cause of it when the most important event coming is being reelect!

    • Trump has little regard for human life. He uttered: people die all the time. what if I am the cause of it when the most important event coming is being reelected!

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