Ousted HHS Official Has Retained Christine Blasey Ford's Legal Team

Dr. Rick Bright was a registered Democrat until at least 2016

Rick Bright
Rick Bright / Getty Images
April 23, 2020

The federal health official who claims he was demoted for opposing the Trump administration's alleged politicization of coronavirus treatments has hired Christine Blasey Ford's legal team to represent him in a whistleblower complaint against the government.

Rick Bright, who was a registered Democrat until at least the 2016 election, was ousted on Tuesday as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a vaccine development and procurement office at the Department of Health and Human Services. He was transferred to another position at the National Institutes of Health.

Bright has retained prominent Democratic activist lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who previously represented Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's sexual assault accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Bright said he plans to file a whistleblower complaint with the HHS inspector general.

Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer who represented the whistleblower at the center of Trump's Ukraine impeachment scandal, told the Washington Free Beacon that there are "a lot of variables that need to be clarified before anyone can say definitively if the president had the legal authority to reassign Bright with impunity."

"Many government officials are at-will employees and can be reassigned or fired without cause. It's not clear where Bright falls in that hierarchy," he said.

Moss said it's also unclear whether Bright's actions were sufficient to give him whistleblower status under the law. "We only have fragments of the story, so it's not clear if the alleged disagreements over policy were ever expressed by Bright through his supervisory chain of command or to an IG" prior to his reassignment, said Moss. This would need to be established in order for Bright to be considered a whistleblower.

Bright's attorney Katz did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on these issues.

Katz and Banks have been active in donating to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. In 2018, the attorneys were scheduled to host a fundraiser for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), but the event was canceled following a Washington Free Beacon report. Blasey Ford said she hired the lawyers after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) recommended them to her.

Katz and Banks said in a statement about Bright's demotion that the administration's actions would be "catastrophic" for the American people. They called on the HHS inspector general to "seek a stay of Dr. Bright's termination" until an investigation can be carried out.

Bright called on the HHS inspector general to "investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit."

Bright, who holds a Ph.D. in immunology, served as BARDA director since November 2016. He says he was wrongfully "sidelined" by the Trump administration, which he accused of "politiciz[ing] the work of BARDA."

"I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science—not politics or cronyism—has to lead the way," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bright is currently listed as an unaffiliated voter.

In his statement, Bright said he was transferred out of BARDA because he "resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections." He claimed this included the administration's efforts to give doctors access to the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump had touted as a promising potential treatment for coronavirus. Studies of hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness have had varied results.