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Coronavirus whistleblower Rick Bright's complaint shows high likelihood of 'wrongdoing,' watchdog says

CNBC logoCNBC 5/14/2020 Dan Mangan

    a man wearing a suit and tie: Rick Bright prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on May 14, 2019, in Washington. © Provided by CNBC Rick Bright prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on May 14, 2019, in Washington.

    A government watchdog has preliminarily found a "substantial likelihood of wrongdoing" in the removal of a vaccine specialist from a federal agency overseeing coronavirus response efforts, according to a document released Thursday.

    The finding from the Office of the Special Counsel was revealed as Rick Bright, who has filed a whistleblower complaint, was set to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health about the circumstances of his unwilling transfer to another health agency.

    "I believe we could have done better," Bright said, when asked by the committee's chairwoman if the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a failure.

    "I believe there were was critical steps that we did not take," Bright said.

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    Bright has claimed he was removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after resisting efforts to increase access to an anti-malarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for Covid-19.

    In his complaint, Bright alleged that employees at the Department of Health and Human Services and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response "engaged in conduct that may constitute violations of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety; and censorship related to scientific research," OSC noted in a letter to Bright released Thursday.

    "We emphasize that, while OSC has found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing based on the information you submitted in support of your allegations your referral to the Secretary for investigation is not a final  determination that the allegations are substantiated," the letter said.

    The watchdog said it remains under investigation until its final report is given to the president and Congress.

    Trump slammed Bright on Twitter on Thursday morning before testimony began.

    "I don't know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him," Trump tweeted.

    "But to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!" Trump wrote.

    This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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