House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Democrats plan to investigate a claim by Rick Bright, a top coronavirus vaccine researcher, that the Trump administration demoted him in retaliation for his skepticism regarding a COVID-19 treatment pushed by President Trump.
“The allegation, shall we say, that the administration was encouraging those with responsibility to quicken the approval process for, shall we say, ‘friends’ is a devastating charge,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said her fellow stateswoman Rep. Anna Eshoo, chairwoman of the House’s health subcommittee, planned on holding a hearing to probe the allegation.
Ms. Eshoo told CNN in an interview that she’d like to have the doctor himself as a witness before her panel.
“I think the American people deserve to hear Dr. Bright’s story,” Ms. Eshoo said. “He really has worked for the American people — they are the ones who have paid his salary. A thoroughbred professional — and to set him aside in one of the most key positions to develop vaccines in the midst of the pandemic? The story doesn’t make sense to me. So I think it deserves examination.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Bright, formerly the head of the government office tasked with developing a coronavirus vaccine, said he planned on filing a whistleblower complaint.
He was removed from his position as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) earlier this week.
“I believe this transfer was in response to my 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,” Mr. Bright said in a statement issued Wednesday and posted by CNN.
His statement said he was moved to a less prominent position within the National Institutes of Health after clashing with political leaders regarding use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, an existing malaria drug that the president touted but has since toned down.
President Trump said he doesn’t know who Mr. Bright is or the circumstances around his claims, but will request someone look into it “at some point.”
“I don’t know the gentleman,” he told reporters on Friday. “I guess they moved him into a different group.”
In a statement, Mr. Bright’s lawyers accused the administration of making “demonstrably false statements” about the doctor.
“Dr. Bright has been an exemplary public servant as demonstrated by the multiple excellent performance reviews he has received to date,” they wrote. “It remains Dr. Bright’s sincerest hope that once he makes these facts known he will be reinstated to his role as Director of BARDA and that he will be able to focus his efforts on stopping the pandemic without further political pressure or distractions.”