WASHINGTON — The Trump administration accused a federal whistleblower Thursday of “one-sided arguments and misinformation” and drawing a six-figure salary while not showing up to work.
The Department of Health and Human Services in a statement on Thursday blasted Rick Bright, the former head of a vaccines development agency who says he was ousted when he pushed back on Trump administration decisions about an untested coronavirus treatment.
“Mr. Bright has not yet shown up for work, but continues to collect his $285,010 salary, while using his taxpayer-funded medical leave to work with partisan attorneys who are politicizing the response to Covid-19,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement.
The attacks came less than two hours after a more direct jab from President Trump.
“I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, 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 tweeted.
Bright is testifying Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the first time Bright has spoken out publicly since formally filing a whistleblower complaint earlier this month. Bright was removed from his position as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in late April.
In response to similar criticisms, Bright has said via a spokesperson, Kendra Barkoff Lamy, that he is “on sick leave due to hypertension caused by this current situation.”
The first hour of Thursday’s hearing focused far more on the committee process and the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response than on any of the allegations Bright has put forth or HHS’ latest accusations. Bright spent most of his opening statement detailing his own concerns with the Trump administration’s response rather than any of the alleged retaliatory actions.
Other officials who figure prominently in Bright’s complaint, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, and White House adviser Peter Navarro, declined to testify Thursday, according to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the chair of the subcommittee that held the hearing.
The Office of Special Counsel has found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” earlier this week, according to a preliminary finding dated May 12 that was released by a Bright spokesperson Thursday. The office will now direct HHS to conduct a full investigation, which could take more than a year.
The office has also recommended Bright be reinstated as head of BARDA pending further investigation. However, the decision on whether to take that recommendation lays with Azar.