The coronavirus whistleblower outlined Trump's failings today, and it was painful to hear

Dr Bright claimed he kept warning members of the administration from January but was deliberately ignored. During his hearing, it looked like Republicans chose to simply give up

Ahmed Baba
Washington DC
Thursday 14 May 2020 19:50 BST
Coronavirus whistleblower Rick Bright says he was removed from key meetings after raising alarms

When Donald Trump smears a congressional witness first thing in the morning, you know he's nervous about what they're about to say. Ahead of Dr Rick Bright's highly anticipated hearing this morning, the president launched an 8am tweet calling him a "disgruntled employee" who should no longer be working for the government. As usual with most of Trump's unhinged efforts to intimidate witnesses, the opposite is true.

What we heard today was the most in-depth public exhibition of the Trump administration's failures to protect Americans from a pandemic. Administration officials were warned and they did not act. They knew the extent of the threat coronavirus posed and they lied about it. We are now living with the results of that inaction and disinformation.

Bright's opening statement to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health was forward-looking, warning that "without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in American history." But the Q&A portion focused on his whistleblower complaint, meaning that we very quickly got a shocking view of the past.

At the core of Bright's allegations is that he was removed from his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the office responsible for vaccines, in an act of retaliation. Bright says that this was due to him speaking out against “politics and cronyism” driving decisions about the coronavirus response instead of science. He alleges the primary reason for his ousting was due to his opposition to the Trump administration's promotion of unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine. He filed a whistleblower complaint corroborating these claims with documentary evidence.

Bright discussed an email he received from Mike Bowen, co-owner of surgical mask producer Prestige Ameritech, about a diminishing supply chain for masks. He pointed to Bowen’s January warning as to what made him realize how unprepared America was for what was coming. Bowen wrote: "Rick, I think we're in deep s**t. The world.”

Between January and April, Bright warned that we needed to ramp up production of N95 masks, stockpile raw materials, and urgently increase testing capacity. He pushed warnings to the highest levels of the HHS; they were ignored and he was cut out of future crucial meetings. Bright said this "inaction put a lot of lives at risk." The Trump administration didn't invoke the Defense Production Act to procure masks and medical equipment until April. Crucial months were lost.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Assistant Secretary of HHS Dr Robert Kadlec were allegedly chief among those who ignored the warnings. Bright does credit White House Adviser Peter Navarro with taking the threat seriously. Azar, Kadlec, and Navarro were all invited to testify to their side of the story but they declined.

Few GOP lawmakers even made an attempt to contest any of Bright's allegations about the Trump administration’s early failures to combat coronavirus. Instead, they attacked the process of the hearing and defended hydroxychloroquine. Ranking member Michael Burgess' (R-TX) line of questioning began what would be a series of GOP defenses of the malaria drug, which is still not proven to be effective against Covid-19. It was as if Republicans were already resigned to the facts of the Trump administration's failures.

The FDA has warned against using hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus patients, pointing to heart complications and the fact that in some cases, it seems to have increased the death rate. This undermines Republicans' defenses of the drug and bolsters Bright's arguments against it. But of course, that’s real science.

During the last half of Bright’s hearing, Republicans repeatedly reserved their time, allowing Democrat after Democrat to continue asking questions instead. Eventually, Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) was told Republicans were out of speakers. It appeared they had completely given up.

While some have called these ignored coronavirus warnings the biggest intelligence failure since 9/11, this was not a failure of intelligence. Azar and Navarro talked with President Trump about coronavirus directly in January and his presidential daily briefings were reportedly filled with intelligence about Covid-19 throughout January and February. Trump knew and did nothing significant about an approaching pandemic domestically until mid-March, all while trying to ease stock market fears. Academic researchers have estimated, as outlined in The New York Times, that 90 percent of the first wave of US coronavirus deaths could've been avoided if social distancing guidelines were put in place just two weeks earlier on March 2.

No, this is not 9/11. It's way worse. The coronavirus death toll is over 84,000 American lives. This was like if President Trump was told about dozens of 9/11s being planned around the US and, as the attacks began to occur, he called fears a Democratic "hoax." That is not hyperbole. "The invisible enemy," as Trump has called coronavirus, was already in the US. The only move our president made between January and early March, while it was circulating, was to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country while letting Americans possibly infected by the virus in, all the while failing to ramp up testing.

It turns out Mike Bowen's emailed prediction to Dr Bright was right. We are now "in deep s**t,” and it's because of the Trump administration's wilful incompetence. Trump isn't responsible for the existence of coronavirus, but he damn sure is responsible for America's failures to contain it.

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