The story of Dr. Rick Bright-government virologist turned whistleblower-should not be treated as just another Trump administration scandal, potential forgotten among the countless others. Nor don't let think about it as just the latest bit of evidence of this administration's lethal fecklessness in answering the coronavirus pandemic.
It is both of those things. But it is also good reason to once more impeach the president.
I know what you're thinking: We've been through this before. Impeachment is slow also it takes time and energy that Congress and the American people should be expending on other important tasks, like fighting the pandemic and restoring the economy. And the other impeachment in the House will be futile, since the Republican-controlled Senate still won't take away the president.
But hear me out: The pandemic creates new good reasons to remove the president-because of his latest actions and because of what still lies ahead. And even if Senate Republicans wouldn't vote differently-despite the gathering electoral storm clouds-at least the effort again to get rid of this singularly unfit president would be a worthy historical act of devotion towards the Constitution.
Let's start with the administration's recent record. Dr. Bright's whistleblower complaint causes it to be clear that the president's unabashed corruption has contributed to the administration's botched coronavirus response.
Dr. Bright includes a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University. He is a leading expert in pandemic preparedness and response, as well as in the design of diagnostic tools necessary to track pandemics like the one we're now fighting. After a decade working on vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bright moved over to the Department of Health insurance and Human Services in 2010. Until last month, he was the deputy assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response, whilst serving as the director from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority . BARDA accounts for government contracts valued at approximately $50 billion, by having an average annual budget well over $1.5 billion. According to Bright's complaint, \”every contract is reviewed by a panel of scientific experts, typically from across HHS, and every contract passes through several layers of review before obtaining approval.\”
Over the course of his HHS tenure, Bright \”led the development of vaccine production capacity from less than 1 million doses to a nearly 1 billion dose capacity\” across twelve developing countries. He also served as a scientific advisor to the Department of Defense and the World Health Organization.
So let's be clear on one thing: Bright is an expert within the development and production of vaccines to combat menaces like the coronavirus. He has a track record of success. America is drowning within the coronavirus crisis. Why, in the midst of the pandemic, would the Trump administration toss aside one of the main figures in government with experience and expertise?
According to Dr. Bright, he was sidelined for voicing concerns \”about pressure that . . . government officials were exerting on BARDA to invest in drugs, vaccines, and other technologies without proper scientific vetting or that lacked scientific merit.\” He objected to the administration's award of contracts to companies with political connections rather than \”exclusively on scientific merit.\” Bright insisted \”that BARDA would only invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic in safe and scientifically vetted solutions also it would not succumb to the pressure of politics or cronyism.\” He paid a political price for his integrity like a scientist, physician, and steward of taxpayer dollars.
Dr. Bright was particularly troubled by Trump's reckless promotion of the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to deal with COVID-19, as well as the administration's plan to source these items from uninspected labs in Pakistan and India. In touting the drugs, Trump promised on March 19: \”The nice part is, it has been around for a long time, so we know that if it-if things don't go as planned, it will not kill anybody.\” After hydroxychloroquine became a conservative cause célèbre for a few weeks, because the Trump administration's reflexive defenders tripped over one another to praise obama and the drug, the interest petered out-because it became clear that it's not at all the magic bullet they think it is.
The fight over chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine finally drove a frustrated Bright to go to the press, on the rationale \”that Americans required to have this critical information available to them to better inform them of the risks before taking the medicine.\” He claims he \”felt he had exhausted all avenues to alert government officials, who refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public.\”
Shortly thereafter, he was removed as BARDA director, allegedly in retaliation for his whistleblowing activity under 5 U.S.C. § 2302, which protects employees who disclose information that reveals \”any violation associated with a law, rule, or regulation,\” or \”gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or perhaps a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.\”
Although Bright's allegations haven't been tested in court, much about his whistleblower complaint is in line with public reports of how the Trump administration is handling COVID-19. He claims, for example, that he was pressured by an industry consultant with ties to HHS leadership to extend a failed contract with a pharmaceutical company that was slated to expire. The reason? The business's chief executive officer
was a \”wildcard\” and a friend of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law along with a Senior Advisor to the President. Dr. Bright stood his ground on this contract, which led to some discord between him and HHS leadership.
Kushner's clumsy and irresponsible self-dealing is not new. According to the Washington Post, a \”volunteer\” on Kusher's so-called \”coronavirus response team\” filed a complaint in April using the House Oversight Committee. That whistleblower asserts that Kushner's approximately two-dozen recruits from consulting and equity firms had, as the Post put it, \”little expertise in the tasks these were assigned, exacerbating chronic problems in obtaining supplies for hospitals and other needs, according to numerous government officials along with a volunteer involved in the effort.\”
Keep in mind that Kushner-like Rudy Giuliani, the private lawyer in the center of the last impeachment scandal-has been given massive responsibility inside the Trump administration that goes far, far beyond his experience and expertise. He is not a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate. He did not take an oath of office. And that he is not subject to the legislative and regulatory way of oversight and accountability that govern federal employees.
Nor would be the ragtag members of his coronavirus task force, which reportedly used a spreadsheet named \”VIP Update\” you prioritized procurement of protective equipment along with other vital medical supplies from Trump allies over experienced, vetted vendors.
But obviously, we already know-from numerous reports of Trump's purging of suspected \”Never Trumpers\” from the ranks of the civil service and of his replacement of neutral inspectors general with perceived loyalists-that there isn't any accountability for Donald Trump under his look at the presidency. And so far, Congress has largely gone along with his distortion of the Constitution's separation of powers.
Bright's complaint goes on for nearly 60 detailed pages, and is reportedly backed by emails and other documentary evidence of his time at HHS. These facts cannot be ignored.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is threatening voter safety at the physical polls in November. The president opposes mail-in voting, and Congress has thus far ignored the pressing call to finance nationwide mail-in voting and save the U.S. Postal Service from bankruptcy. As a consequence, the fall election may not be perceived as legitimate-whatever its outcome.
Republican senators' excuse for excusing Trump's abuses of office during the last round of impeachment proceedings no longer holds water. Outgoing senator Lamar Alexander justified his vote to acquit this way: \”Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with 'the consent of the governed,' not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.\” But what if a vicious virus as well as an incompetent president have made voting unsafe and unreliable? The Constitution offers another viable tool for removing a president: impeachment.