4 people punished for criticizing Trump's coronavirus response


White House officials who question Trump's ideas on the novel coronavirus risk being attacked or fired.

By Donald Trump's own admission, he has based decisions on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic on his own gut feelings.

On March 20, he said his decision to push the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 was based on "a feeling."

And earlier in March, Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he doubted the World Health Organization's coronavirus death rate estimate based simply on a "hunch."

Yet Trump has attacked, sidelined, or even fired members of his own administration for making comments based on scientific facts and hard evidence — often because their fact-based comments do not mesh with Trump's beliefs.

Here are the four members of Trump's administration who have put their jobs in jeopardy for not agreeing with Trump's gut feelings:

Vaccine expert Rick Bright

Rick Bright, a doctor who led the federal agency tasked with developing a vaccine for the coronavirus at the Department of Health and Human Service, said he was demoted for demanding more stringent testing of hydroxychloroquine before recommending it to treat COVID-19, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Trump had been pushing for doctors to use the anti-malarial drug after a small, controversial study done in France suggested the drug might be an effective treatment for COVID-19. Since then, several studies have come out suggesting the opposite, with a study in Brazil halted after the drug appeared to cause fatal heart complications.

Bright told the Times he was removed from his job because he refused to put money toward hydroxychloroquine research, which he called a "potentially dangerous" drug that was "promoted by those with political connections."

"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," Bright said in a statement to the New York Times. "I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way."

Trump was asked at Wednesday's news conference whether Bright was demoted because he refused to put money toward the malaria drug. Trump demurred.

"Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't," Trump said, adding, "I don't know who he is."

CDC official Nancy Messonnier

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that Trump threatened to fire Messonier — the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control — after she said on Feb. 25 that the government should be prepared for the coronavirus to become a pandemic within the United States.

Messonnier — who has decades of experience as a public health expert — said the virus was going to spread within the United States, and that, "Disruption to everyday life might be severe."

That message, however, did not jibe with Trump's downplaying of the virus.

At the time, he said the coronavirus was, "very much under control in the USA" — even though cases were already starting to rise.

According to the WSJ report, Trump was "furious" that Messonnier had not downplayed the virus' threat, and threatened to oust her — though his threat never materialized.

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci

Fauci's tenure on the coronavirus task force looked to be in jeopardy earlier this month after he admitted that Trump's slow response to the coronavirus could have saved more lives.

"I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," Fauci said April 12 on CNN. "Obviously, no one is going to deny that."

After that comment, Trump retweeted a former Republican congressional candidate, who said it was "Time to #FireFauci."

According to the New York Times, Trump had already been privately frustrated with Fauci, who had disagreed with a number of Trump's decisions on the coronavirus, including the travel restrictions on China and the push to use hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 disease.

But the admission that Trump's actions may have led to more deaths looked at the time to be one of the last straws for Trump.

Ultimately, Trump kept Fauci on the task force — at least for now.

A White House spokesperson said it was "ridiculous" that anyone thought Trump was going to fire Fauci, even though it was Trump himself who retweeted a call for Fauci's ouster.

CDC Director Robert Redfield

Trump frog-marched the head of the CDC in front of the media to walk back a comment he made to the Washington Post, in which Redfield predicted a second wave of the coronavirus in the winter that could be worse than the current outbreak.

"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," Redfield told the Washington Post on Sunday.

Without any evidence, Trump said that Redfield was "totally misquoted."

"I spoke to him. He said it was ridiculous," Trump said Wednesday of Redfield's prediction — which does not comport with Trump's desire to get the country back to work and past the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump then made Redfield come to the podium on Wednesday to clarify his comments.

Redfield admitted that he was "accurately quoted," but said he didn't mean the outbreak would be deadlier, just "more difficult" than the current outbreak.

Redfield and the CDC had already been sidelined earlier in March, according to a Washington Post report.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.