Jordan spars with former Trump vaccine official over ‘gag order’ during pandemic

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) sparred Wednesday with a former senior Trump administration health official over whether the administration issued a “gag order” amid its chaotic response in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rick Bright, the former head of a vaccines development agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, appeared at a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing. 

Bright previously filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the Trump administration prioritized politics above science, and claimed his efforts to push back on the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus contributed to his removal in April 2020. 

Near the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Jordan sought to counter suggestions from Democrats on the committee that scientists and experts within the Trump administration were effectively issued a “gag order” barring them from speaking to the media. 

Jordan asked retired Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health under Trump, if he had been issued a “gag order,” adding “you were allowed to talk, weren’t you?”

“I was and I went to any place that wanted me on TV, whatever their affiliation, time, I did it because that was part of my job,” Giroir said.

Jordan turned to Bright, asking, “did they tell you you couldn’t talk to anyone?”

“Yes, they did, sir,” Bright responded. “We were gagged. We were not allowed to speak to the media, all requests were declined.” 

Jordan then asked Bright why Giroir was allowed to speak to the media while he wasn’t, to which Bright said “I have no idea.”

Jordan brought up remarks from Bright’s former boss, Robert Kadlec, the former assistant secretary for preparedness and response, who was interviewed by the select committee earlier this year. 

“When we — Dr. Kadlec, he said he had doubts about your integrity, would that have anything to do with why you weren’t allowed to talk to the press and Dr. Giroir was?”

Bright responded, “Sir, it’s unfortunate that Dr. Kadlec is saying this.”

“Well, he said it under oath in a deposition, you saying he’s lying?” Jordan shot back.

“I’m saying what he said is untrue, sir,” Bright said. 

The Trump administration has previously been accused of gagging certain officials.

In early 2020, emails showed Trump political appointees seeking to censor a top official at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after she warned of the potential impact the virus could have. 

Bright told Jordan Wednesday that “many civil servant scientists” and “many scientists of the CDC” were barred from speaking publicly. 

Trump personally attacked Bright following his whistleblower complaint. 

“I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, 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 tweeted in May 2020.

Tags Brett Giroir COVID-19 pandemic Donald Trump Jim Jordan Rick Bright

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