Whistleblower complaint: How denial, cronyism steered Trump pandemic response

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A new whistleblower complaint by a former US health official details how the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response was hampered by cronyism and denial about the virus’s severity. The 89-page complaint filed by Rick Bright, an immunology expert who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until he says he was forced out of his position, provides an inside look at the Trump administration’s approach to public health before and during the pandemic.

From spring 2017 until his “involuntary removal” last month, “HHS [Health and Human Services] leadership pressured Dr. Bright and BARDA to ignore expert recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections and cronyism,” the complaint said. “Dr. Bright repeatedly clashed with [Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert] Kadlec and other HHS leaders about the outsized role played by John Clerici, an industry consultant to pharmaceutical companies with a longstanding connection to Dr. Kadlec, in the award of government contracts.”

For example, Bright in 2017 objected to a push “to extend a contract with Mr. Clerici’s client, Aeolus Pharmaceuticals, which an IPR [in-process review] had concluded should be allowed to expire without further funding. In attempting to justify the extension of this failed contract, Mr. Clerici emphasized that Aeolus’s Chief Executive Officer was a ‘wildcard’ and a friend of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a Senior Advisor to the President. Dr. Bright stood his ground on this contract, which led to some discord between him and HHS leadership.”

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