OP-ED: Trump just called a key coronavirus whistleblower ‘disgruntled.’ That makes him even more credible

Scott Martelle
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
President Donald Trump holds a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Several White House staff members and aides have recently tested positive for the coronavirus and three top health officials from the White House coronavirus task force are now self-quarantining after potential exposure. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

President Donald Trump reverted to form on Thursday when reporters asked him about congressional testimony by Dr. Richard Bright, who says the White House removed him from his position leading the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority because he, in essence, stood up to Trump’s political machinery in defense of science.

“I watched this guy for a little while this morning,” Trump told reporters as he headed to Allentown, Pa., to tour an Owens & Minor Inc. distribution center for health care products.

“To me, he’s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person,” the president said. “ … There are a lot of people that do not like the job he did. I don’t know him. I never met him. I don’t want to meet him. But I watched him, and he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee, who, frankly, according to some people, didn’t do a very good job.”

There you have it: Vintage Trump, an angry, disgruntled politician whose response to a critic of his actions is to paint him as angry and disgruntled. And, of course, since Trump doesn’t know him, he can’t possibly be anyone of importance or substance. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

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Trump’s comments about Bright followed a morning Twitter attack, another part of the president’s arsenal.

Trump’s splenetic reaction is all the encouragement we need to pay close attention to what Bright told Congress, because what the president disparages often is the truth.

Even Trump’s Office of Special Counsel agrees that the administration likely retaliated against Bright, a whistleblower, by moving him to a lesser government position. It recommended that Bright be reinstated while the office continues its investigation.

Among Bright’s allegations is that he resisted orders to buy stockpiles of antimalarial drugs pushed by the president even though the scientific analysis of the drugs’ efficiency is, at best, mixed.

In a nutshell, Bright’s testimony Thursday undermined the forced optimism Trump and his acolytes have been spewing about the administration’s handling of the crisis, about a nation on the mend, and about the likely availability of a vaccine within months. Trump repeated Thursday there might be a vaccine by the end of the year, which is a rosier prognosis than the 12 months to 18 months experts suggest.

“I still think 12 to 18 months is an aggressive schedule,” Bright said, “and I think it’s going to take longer than that.”

Bright argued that the Trump administration ignored early warnings about the looming severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and lost valuable time that, in turn, cost people their lives — including those of frontline medical care providers.

“I knew that we were going to have a crisis for our health care workers because we were not taking action,” Bright said. “We were already behind the ball. That was our last window of opportunity to turn on that production (of personal protective equipment) to save the lives of those health care workers, and we didn’t act.”

Later he added: “Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost.”

That message is quite different from the one coming out of the White House, which is why Trump doesn’t want you to believe it.

— Scott Martelle, a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.