Candor on COVID a Firing Offense

President Trump can't handle the truth.

White House Coronavirus Update Briefing President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during a coronavirus update briefing Thursday, April 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during a coronavirus update briefing Thursday, April 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

The number one job of the US Government right now is telling Americans the truth about this pandemic. It’s failing. And that’s solely a function of a President more concerned about his image and re-election than the health of the citizenry.

WaPo (“Under Trump, coronavirus scientists can speak — as long as they mostly toe the line“):

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a candid warning Tuesday in a Washington Post interview: A simultaneous flu and coronavirus outbreak next fall and winter “will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” adding that calls and protests to “liberate” states from stay-at-home orders — as President Trump has tweeted — were “not helpful.”

The next morning, Trump cracked down with a Twitter edict: Redfield had been totally misquoted in a cable news story summarizing the interview, he claimed, and would be putting out a statement shortly.

By Wednesday evening, Redfield appeared at the daily White House briefing — saying he had been accurately quoted after all, while also trying to soften his words as the president glowered next to him.

“I didn’t say that this was going to be worse,” Redfield said. “I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially complicated because we’ll have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time.”

He added: ” ‘It’s more difficult’ doesn’t mean it’s going to be more impossible.”

The remarkable spectacle provided another illustration of the president’s tenuous relationship with his own administration’s scientific and public health experts, where the unofficial message from the Oval Office is an unmistakable warning: Those who challenge the president’s erratic and often inaccurate coronavirus views will be punished — or made to atone.

POLITICO (“Ousted vaccine expert battles with Trump team over his abrupt dismissal“):

The abrupt ouster of a top vaccine expert at HHS has split officials who see it as either a boon for the nation’s Covid-19 response or the latest indication of a dysfunctional health department.

Rick Bright, the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was transferred to a new, more narrow role at the National Institutes of Health this week, an HHS spokesperson confirmed. The move was more than a year in the making — Bright had clashed with department leaders about his decisions and the scope of his authority — but came abruptly, said five current and former HHS officials.

One person familiar with the situation said Bright was frozen out of his email and learned about the reassignment only when his name was removed from the BARDA website this weekend. As of Tuesday, Bright had not accepted the reassignment to NIH, where he was tapped to work on efforts to deploy point-of-care Covid-19 testing. Gary Disbrow, Bright’s former deputy, is now BARDA’sacting leader.

Bright told The New York Times on Wednesday that he believed his removal was because of his internal opposition to pursuing investments in malaria drugs as potential treatments for Covid-19, which President Donald Trump has touted without scientific evidence. Three peoplewith knowledge of HHS’ recent acquisition of tens of millions of doses of those drugs said that Bright had supported those acquisitions in internal communications, with one official saying that Bright praised the move as a win for the health department as part of an email exchange that was first reported by Reuters last week, although Bright’s message was not publicly reported.

“If Bright opposed hydroxychloroquine, he certainly didn’t make that clear from his email — quite the opposite,” said the official, who has seen copies of the email exchanges.

In a statement late Wednesday, an HHS official directly linked Bright’s decisions to the health department’s acquisition of the malaria drugs.
“As it relates to chloroquine, it was Dr. Bright who requested an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for donations of chloroquine that Bayer and Sandoz recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on COVID-19 patients,” spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said. “The EUA is what made the donated product available for use in combating COVID-19.”

Bright did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday. In a statement released by his lawyers, Bright said that he will ask the HHS’s inspector general to “investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit.”

Asked about Bright’s claims at Wednesday’s press briefing, Trump denied knowledge of his role and his abrupt ouster.

“I never heard of him,” Trump said. “The guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You’d have to hear the other side.”

This pattern is so familiar that it’s almost not worth calling attention to. But the effects of repressing scientific expression during this crisis will be significant.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    I remember a lot of conservative commentators/talkers telling us that the Sharpie incident (which was only Sept 2019) was blown out of proportion and people were reading far too much into it.

    Now we see its implications playing out, writ large (marked large?) every. effing. day.

    “I never heard of him,” Trump said. “The guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You’d have to hear the other side.”

    It’s remarkable that a person who campaigned on being a constantly involved (remember “I’ll be too busy to golf”) and extremely hands-on (only the best people) executive has apparently met so few upper level staff members.

    Even more noteworthy is the number of direct reports, who he apparently hired and fired, that he “never heard of.”

    (Admittedly Bright was at a lower level, but still PoTUS really doesn’t seem to know or care to know the people who make us his administration)

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  2. DrDaveT says:

    @mattbernius:

    I remember a lot of conservative commentators/talkers telling us that the Sharpie incident (which was only Sept 2019) was blown out of proportion

    Because a flagrant disregard for truth and a willingness to revise history to avoid looking incompetent couldn’t possibly be predictive of future behavior, amirite?

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    In a related story, Trump acting head of the Office of Personnel Management has been telling people that the Pendleton Act (the 1883 law that created the civil service) is unconstitutional and that all government employees should be political appointees that the President can replace at will.

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  4. Kingdaddy says:

    Meanwhile, the efforts to combat COVID-19, including the search for.a vaccine, are being led by a former Labradoodle breeder with no experience in, well, anything relevant.

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  5. Kathy says:

    I don’t watch the daily Trump show/rally(*), but I caught the clip of Dr. Redfield. I expected El PITO to say something like “That’s it. Room 101!”

    (*) It’s like a spam email, or a phishing email. You know there’s nothing of value in it.

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  6. KM says:

    Magical thinking rules in America. Trump wouldn’t be able to get away with such blatant disinformation clearly designed to make him look good/ keep money flowing if people weren’t willing to swallow that tripe. Pushing an untested drug and poo-pooing things like studies for safety would infuriate a population that would figure out they’re being used as guinea pigs; nope – we’ve got folks acting like science is deliberately did it wrong for conspiracy reasons. See, the drug *has* to work as they’ve pinned their hopes on it. Without a treatment, we’re all still screwed and life can’t return to normal. They can’t face a world like their ancestors lived in where a virulent disease can strike at any time and dramatically effect their lives. Rather then having to come to terms with a world that’s a lot scarier, harmful and likely changed forever, they’d rather believe someone trying to be rational about a fantastic claim is actively sabotaging them and must go. Thus, firing a health official during a pandemic for saying we need to test this “miracle drug” first is not an outrage for them but rather a smart move.

    “What do you have to lose?” was the rallying cry. Well, considering it looks like you were x3 more likely to die trying it, magical thinking is killing us more then the virus is.

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  7. Scott says:

    Only politically correct pronouncements are allowed. The Presidential Personnel Office works to ensure politically pure appointments are made. People too loosely toss around the Hitler/Nazi analogy for Trump but the real model is Stalin. We have a modern day Lysenkoism where science has to match the ideology. There are Soviet-style political officers being placed around the government to ensure purity and loyalty. Nazi Germany was evil but they were so competent and efficient. Soviet Russia was not.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    Having a moderate interest in military history I would observe that Nazi Germany was horribly inefficient, placed loyal minders in departments and bureaus, and threw out practitioners of “Jewish physics”.

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  9. sam says:

    Apparently ‘hydroxychloroquine’ has dropped out of the vocabulary of Fox news Trump cheerleaders.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I can’t find a current count but as of 3/22 trump had told 33 lies relating to CoVid (CNN). Extrapolating from that and applying a multiplying factor of 3 to account for his propensity to lie more as things get worse, I am conservatively estimating app 122 Covid lies. So with a death toll of 42,217, I get 346 deaths per lie.**

    Now if only he would focus this superpower of his on our enemies.

    ** In this case I could not pass up the opportunity to engage in some sarcasm, BUT… for the record, I have a problem with blaming any one individual for all the CoVid deaths. No matter who was in the Oval office, a large # of Americans would have died. Still there is no denying that by the time this is over, trump’s idiocy will have made the death toll far higher than it needed to be.

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  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    “Heckuva Job, Brownie” Part Two: Electric Boogaloo

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  12. Kathy says:

    Dr. Novella has more on the prospects of hydroxychloroquine.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    The only truth Trump sees is that his pet pollster, Rasmussen, has him 11 points underwater, while #Cult45 is absorbing the fact that Fox polls has him 8 points down in both Michigan and Pennsylvania. Quinnipiac also has him down 4 in Florida.

    Trump knows what happens if he loses. We get the Deutschebank records, we get the tax returns, we get all the intel, we get hearings, he will no longer be able to obstruct, and he’ll be a) exposed as not a billionaire, and b) quite possibly be tried for corruption and aiding a foreign intelligence service. His ‘brand’ will lose whatever value it has left. He may end his days broke and wearing an orange onesie that matches his skin.

    He’s terrified. And my guess is he hates what little of his job he actually performs. But he’s got the tiger by the tail, so he’s trapped. He’ll lie and fire anyone who tells the truth because truth is the end of Trump. There is literally nothing he won’t do to save his skin.

    Right now what’s happening is that Trump, despite the bully pulpit, is losing badly to an invisible man.

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  14. Barry says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: “No matter who was in the Oval office, a large # of Americans would have died. Still there is no denying that by the time this is over, trump’s idiocy will have made the death toll far higher than it needed to be.”

    ‘a large #’ is doing a lot of extra work here. Given a Clinton administration, we might be looking at a couple of thousand deaths, with the GOP howling about the disaster.

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  15. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He’ll lie and fire anyone who tells the truth because truth is the end of Trump.

    If this be so, then I recommend investing in manufacturers of paper shredders, electromagnets, and whatever is used to destroy USB thumb drives (recent generations of paper shredders also cut CDs into three pieces).

    There is literally nothing he won’t do to save his skin.

    All that effort to save something that worthless.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Barry:

    Given a Clinton administration, we might be looking at a couple of thousand deaths,

    “A couple thousand deaths” is doing a lot of work there:

    CDC- 2009 H1N1 Pandemic (H1N1pdm09 virus)

    12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.

    Or do you want to say that Bill or Hillary would have done better than Obama just months into their first term?

    ETA or are you going to say CoVid is no worse than H1N1?