Marino out of consideration for White House drug czar

Story highlights

  • His withdrawal comes after a joint CBS "60 Minutes" and Washington Post report
  • Trump said Monday he would look into the report and spoke warmly of Marino

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican, has withdrawn his name from consideration to become the nation's next drug czar.

"Rep. Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar," Trump tweeted. "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"
The congressman's withdrawal comes after a joint CBS "60 Minutes" and Washington Post report revealed that Marino took nearly $100,000 from the pharmaceutical lobby while sponsoring a bill that made it easier for drug companies to distribute opioids across American communities and thwart the Drug Enforcement Agency.
    Trump spoke with radio host Brian Kilmeade following Marino's decision.
    "He told me, look, if there is even a perception that he has a conflict of interest with insurance companies, essentially, but if there is even a perception of a conflict of interest, he doesn't want anything to do with it," Trump said.
    It was not immediately clear what Trump meant when he referred to insurance companies.
    "There was a couple of articles having to do with him and drug companies and I will tell you, he felt compelled, he feels very strong about the opioid problem," the President added. "Tom Marino said, 'Look, I'll take a pass, I have no choice, I really will take a pass, I want to do it.'"
    At a Rose Garden news conference on Monday, Trump said he would look into the report and spoke warmly of Marino.
    "He was a very early supporter of mine, the great state of Pennsylvania," Trump said. "He is a great guy. I did see the report. We are going to look into the report. We are going to take it very seriously."
    Trump added that he will speak to Marino and "if I think it is 1% negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change."
    A DEA whistleblower told "60 Minutes" the US government slowed down enforcement against large pharmaceutical companies just as the opioid epidemic was taking hold. He said the companies turned a blind eye as the pills flooded US communities while lawmakers passed a law to help the industry at the same time. The bill was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in April 2016.
    The law, which was supposed to further define "imminent danger," raised the bar for evidence on the suspension orders on drug shipments.
    Former DEA lawyer Jonathan Novak said the result of the bill was fewer busts, and more DEA staff "auditioning" for the pharmaceutical industry as opioid deaths and overdoses continued to climb.
    The slowdown in DEA busts comes alongside a recent spike in opioid overdoses and deaths. The number of overdose deaths related to heroin increased 533% between 2002 and 2016, and a Washington Post report found that fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased nearly 600% in some of America's largest cities over the last three years.
    West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who had called for Marino to be removed from consideration in the report's wake, thanked the President on Twitter following Marino's withdrawal.
    He added, "I look forward to working with @realDonaldTrump to find a drug czar that will serve #WV and our entire country."
    Before Trump's announcement Tuesday, Manchin, who represents one of the hardest-hit states in the epidemic, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" that Marino's bill "allowed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people get killed."
    "Over my dead body will he be the drug czar," he said.
    Manchin said that though the bill was passed with unanimous consent and members of Congress could have voiced their dissent, neither he nor any other member spoke up.
    "They probably thought they greased this bill," he said, later adding, "There (was) no dissenting because no one has raised any concern because they think everybody is fine, DOJ is fine, DEA says it hasn't impeded them whatsoever. ... We didn't know about all the people who left and took big-paying jobs for the other side. No one knew about all of this. It wasn't revealed."
    However, as the Post reported, then-Attorney General Eric Holder publicly opposed the bill.
    He also suggested his own staff didn't flag concerns during the bill's consideration.
    "I am as outraged as you," he said. "How does this happen? My entire staff, you think I haven't berated them?"
    Manchin also told Cuomo that he doesn't believe Trump knew about Marino's links to the pharmaceutical lobby prior to the report.
    "It wasn't even brought to our attention," he added.
    Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill backed by Marino in the House, said he "feels badly" about the would-be drug czar's withdrawal.
    "Some of the criticism is just false. In fact, all of it is," he told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The fact of the matter is if we have a substance that can help people, physically and emotionally and so forth, with true illness, then we ought to explore that. And I have no problems with that."
    Following the CBS/Washington Post investigation, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill announced she would pursue legislation to repeal the 2016 law Marino supported. Following his withdrawal, the Democrat said in a statement that she believed it was "the right decision."