NYT Story About Ousted HHS Director Rick Bright Starts To Crumble Almost Instantly

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
Font Size:

A report Wednesday from the New York Times about a top vaccine expert at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who claims he was fired for opposing hydroxychloroquine has quickly fallen apart.

Rick Bright, former director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority [BARDA], said he was dismissed from his position because he opposed hydroxychloroquine. This is the anti-malarial drug that has been touted by President Donald Trump as a possible coronavirus treatment.

NYT reporters Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman pushed Bright’s “scorching statement” following his dismissal, but heavily downplayed other key reports that contradict the former director’s claims.

Bright requested that the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] “issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for emergency use of oral formulations of chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate for the treatment of 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19)” in March, according to a press release from the FDA on March 28.

Bright’s request calls into question the claim that he was removed due to “his internal opposition to pursuing investments in malaria drugs as potential treatments for Covid-19,” as Politico pointed out Wednesday. The NYT piece only notes Bright’s request in the form of two quotes, failing to expand on it, although it seems to negate Bright’s claims.

“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Bright said according to the NYT. “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician.”

An HHS statement, included in the NYT and Politico’s report, alludes to Bright’s request as well. The NYT still did not highlight the FDA’s March press release.

“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,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said. “The E.U.A. is what made the donated product available for use in combating Covid-19.”

Politico’s Dan Diamond highlighted the HHS official’s statement “that Bright played a role in acquiring malaria drugs for the Trump administration.” He added that it is worth nothing “some federal officials have felt wrongly pressured by Trump’s push.”

“A person familiar with Dr. Bright’s account said that Dr. Bright was pressured to rush access to the drug after the president and Larry Ellison, the chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle, had a conversation about chloroquines,” according to the NYT.

The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller regarding Bright’s request.

Bright’s request is not publicly available, so it not yet entirely clear what his exact thoughts on the drug’s potential was. The FDA’s response to Bright, which is not quoted by the NYT, is publicly available.

The FDA granted Bright’s request and the HHS “accepted 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate” donations one day later, journalist Jeryl Bier pointed out. This is not highlighted in the NYT report. (RELATED: They Attacked Trump For Touting ‘Unproven Drugs,’ Now The NYT Is Reporting It Can Help With Coronavirus)

Haberman and Shear only note that “at the end of March, a division of Novartis, a leading pharmaceutical company, donated 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate to the health department’s stockpile for the possible use of treating Covid-19.” The NYT reporters do not link this decision to Bright’s “emergency” request.

Aside from the publicly available response from the FDA regarding Bright’s request, Politico reported that “three people with knowledge of HHS’ recent acquisition of tens of millions of doses of those drugs say that Bright had supported those acquisitions in internal communications.”

One of these sources said Bright “praised the move as a win for the health department.”

“If Bright opposed hydroxychloroquine, he certainly didn’t make that clear from his email — quite the opposite,” one official who saw copies of relevant email exchanges said according to Politico.

Another note that appears to throw cold water on Bright’s claims is buried in the NYT report.

Trump administration officials said that Bright “clashed repeatedly” with Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant health secretary for preparedness and response, according to the NYT. He was “a polarizing figure” within HHS and a discussion regarding his removal began months ago. This is included towards the end of the NYT report.

“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,” Politico reported.

Diamond expanded on this counter-argument, noting that “Trump appointees had been trying to oust Bright for more than a year, unhappy with his management. POLITICO first learned about those disputes last year, before the Covid-19 outbreak hit the U.S.”

Diamond included text exchange dating back to Jan. 2 from an “individual with knowledge of those fights” that reads Bright “is not long for his job.” The NYT story has not yet been updated with this additional information, which further disputes Bright’s claims on why he was removed from the position.

Haberman and Shear also note at the very end of their report that Bright is being represented by the lawyers who represented Christine Blasey Ford. Debra Katz and Lisa Bank, the attorneys, pushed an unproven accusation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that upended his confirmation process.

The NYT and the HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller.

Editor’s Note: This piece incorrectly stated that journalist Jeryl Bier works for Politico and has since been updated.