02:59 - Source: CNN
Director of key vaccine agency says his dismissal was retaliation
CNN  — 

House Democrats are calling for the Health and Human Services Inspector General to investigate the ousting of Dr. Rick Bright, the Trump administration official who until this week oversaw development and purchasing of vaccines and medicines to combat coronavirus.

In his letter, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, asked the inspector general to “investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr. Bright’s reassignment” and to examine “who made the decision to reassign Dr. Bright and when the decision was made.”

“I have been particularly concerned by the Trump Administration’s politicization of public health agencies,” Pallone wrote in the letter. “This most recent action, if true, further raises serious questions about the commitment of President Trump and his Administration to science and the public good as the government and the nation work to combat an unprecedented global health pandemic.”

The letter comes as there are mounting questions about the circumstances surrounding Bright’s reassignment, which according to a spokesperson from Health and Human Services will be to lead a public-private partnership on vaccine development.

As the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Bright had been helping lead the response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a part of his role, he said he had an “insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”

Bright alleged that ran afoul of others in the Trump administration, leading to his reassignment.

Pallone’s letter comes after Bright himself announced he planned to file a whistleblower complaint with the inspector general’s office.

“If Dr. Bright’s assertions about why he was removed are true, this is a serious matter that warrants prompt attention,” Pallone wrote. “Now, more than ever — in the midst of a global health pandemic, and with an Administration stacked with political leaders who repeatedly pander to a President intent on burying science and dismantling agencies’ longstanding missions for the public good — we must ensure our government’s scientific institutions are insulated from political pressure.”

Pallone asked specifically for the inspector general to look into if the laws were followed when it came to issuing Bright’s reassignment as well as “who made the decision to reassign Dr. Bright and what were the reasons given.”

“Did political considerations affect the decision to reassign Dr. Bright, including Dr. Bright’s actions and statements related to chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine?” Pallone wrote.

A spokesperson for the office of the inspector general at Health and Human Services confirmed the department had received the letter from Pallone but said they would not comment on Bright.

“In addition to HHS OIG, the Office of Special Counsel has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of whistleblower retaliation against federal civilian employees and applicants for federal employment,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The whistleblower determines with which agency to file. In matters in which a federal employee has filed a retaliation complaint simultaneously with the OIG and OSC, the OIG generally defers to OSC to investigate the complaint.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.