Ousted HHS whistleblower testifies about mask maker's warning as Trump calls him 'disgruntled employee'

Ousted HHS whistleblower testifies about mask maker's warning as Trump calls him 'disgruntled employee'
Donald Trump and Alex Azar (Getty Images)

Dr Rick Bright, the former director of a crucial federal office responsible for developing countermeasures to infectious diseases, testified before the Congress on Thursday, May 14, that the US will counter an even worse crisis if it doesn’t have additional preparations to curb the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 1.4 million people have been affected in the US by the deadly coronavirus while more than 85,000 people have died, as per the John Hopkins tracker. Bright had led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has played a key role in the response to the pandemic outbreak, since 2016 and suddenly ceased to hold the role in April, as per CNN. 

In his testimony, Bright told the lawmakers about the moment when he knew that the USA's response to the crisis was not going anywhere. During his revelations before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health, Bright spoke about a conversation he had with Mike Bowen, a surgical mask-maker based in Texas, reports CNN. 

“Congressman, I'll never forget the emails I received from Mike Bowen indicating that our mask supplier, N95 respirator supplier, was completely decimated and he said “we're in deep s***, the world is, and we need to act,” Bright said. “And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response,” he added. 

Rick Bright (Wikimedia Commons)

“From that moment I knew that we were going to have a crisis for our healthcare workers because we were not taking action. We were already behind the ball, that was our last opportunity to turn on that production to save the lives of our healthcare workers and we didn't act,” he said. 

Bowen confirmed Bright’s version when testifying before the same body later in the day though stopped short of using the expletive. “So my email to Rick Bright, in my email I said, 'I think we’re in trouble, we have these machines it would be expensive and hard to get them going but if this is going to be bad that could happen,' so that was my offer,” Bowen said.

Trump, Health Secy Azar slam Bright

Bright, who believes the move for his demotion could be politically motivated and warned that 2020 could be the "darkest winter in modern history" without better planning, was earlier slammed by President Donald Trump. In a tweet on Thursday, the president called him a "disgruntled employee" who should not work with his government anymore. He also criticized Bright as an ‘unhappy disgruntled person’ before leaving for Pennsylvania on Thursday. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was also critical of Bright. He said everything that Azar complained about was met with. “This is like someone who was in choir, [who] is trying to say he was a soloist back then. Dr Bright was part of a team and simply saying what everybody at the White House and HHS was saying. Not a bit of different,” Azar said about the whistleblower.

Bright arrived on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, wearing gloves and a mask, to testify. Though he did not take a direct dig at Trump, he said in his written opening statement that the leaders must set an example by wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing. Trump has openly refused to take the precautions. 

Bright further said on the state of affairs: “The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard, centralized, coordinated plan to take our nation through this response.” He feared that a mix of influenza and Covid-19 could overwhelm America’s healthcare system this fall. He said time was running out and the time is here to make a balance between economy and science as anti-lockdown protests have been gaining momentum across the country. Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has even received death threats on social media for sticking to stay-at-home orders. 
When Bright was asked by Republican Representative Anna Eshoo, the chair of the subcommittee, and some of her GOP colleagues whether he appeared at the hearing as a government witness or in a private capacity, he said it was the latter. Debra Katz, who had been representing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault accuser Christine Blasey Ford, is Bright’s attorney and was present with him at the hearing.

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