CDC Chief Resigns After Tobacco Revelations

Brenda Fitzgerald bought stock in tobacco company after assuming post at health agency
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2018 10:05 AM CST
Updated Jan 31, 2018 1:47 PM CST
CDC Chief Resigns After Tobacco Revelations
Brenda Fitzgerald has resigned from the CDC.   (AP Photo/David Tulis, File)

The CDC will be needing a new leader. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned on Wednesday as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after some dicey financial conflicts came to light. The big one: Fitzgerald bought stock in a major tobacco company just a month after assuming her position at the CDC last year, according to a report in Politico on Tuesday that may have sealed Fitzgerald's fate. Details and developments:

  • The details: Fitzgerald's financial manager bought stock in Japan Tobacco, one of the world's biggest tobacco companies, as well as in food and drug companies such as Merck, Bayer, Humana, and US Food Holding Co. (The full story is here.) The CDC has a stated mission to reduce smoking, and it oversees the food and drug fields.
  • The perception: "You don't buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC," Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told Politico. "It's ridiculous" and "tone deaf." Japan Tobacco sells various brands of cigarettes in the US, including Winston and Camel, notes New York.

  • The conflicts: Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar said he had accepted Fitzgerald's resignation Wednesday, citing her "complex financial interests," reports the Washington Post. In a statement, the HHS said that Fitzgerald "could not divest from them in a definitive time period," which limited her ability to act as CDC chief.
  • Recusals: Politico reported previously that Fitzgerald had to repeatedly recuse herself from testifying before Congress on the CDC's activities because of wide-ranging financial conflicts. Those recusals were on issues such as the nation's opioid crisis and cancer detection.
  • Murray's concern: Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had publicly expressed her concerns about Fitzgerald's situation, and she called the resignation "another example of this administration’s dysfunction and questionable ethics," per STAT. (The previous HHS secretary, Tom Price, resigned over his use of private planes at taxpayer expense.)
  • Bad timing: Vox notes that the CDC is currently busy dealing with a serious flu outbreak, after a busy summer dealing with hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. At the same time, the Trump administration is proposing $1.2 billion in cuts to the CDC's 2018 budget.
  • Interim chief: Dr. Anne Schuchat, the agency’s principal deputy director, is the new acting director. She previously served in the role before Fitzgerald's appointment in July.
(More CDC stories.)

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