Trump’s CDC director resigns after bombshell report on tobacco stock holdings
Newly sworn-in Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar accepted Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported citing the agency spokesman.
“Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director,” HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said. “Due to the nature of these financial statements, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”
Lloyd said the department’s ethics office had reviewed her financial holdings, instructing her to divest of certain holdings that might pose a conflict of interest.
Politico broke the news of Fitzgerald's tobacco stock options on Tuesday, shortly before President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address.
The news outlet discovered Fitzgerald had bought between $1,001 and $15,000 in Japan Tobacco stocks one month into her leadership of the agency, a post she has held since July. Japan Tobacco is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world and sells four tobacco brands in the US through a subsidiary.
“You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,” Richard Painter, who served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005-2007, told Politico. He described the move as “tone deaf.”
Politico reported a day after purchasing the stock, Fitzgerald toured the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory, which researches how the chemicals in tobacco harm human health.
Fitzgerald also has shares in drug and food companies. She owned between $1,001 and $15,000 in Merck & Co, Bayer and health insurance company Humana, as well as between $15,001 and $50,000 in US Ford Holding Co, according to Politico. The outlet also reported Fitzgerald had repeatedly been unable to testify before Congress because of her unresolved financial conflicts.
While holding stock, she participated in meetings related to the opioid crisis, hurricane response efforts, cancer and obesity, stroke prevention, polio, Zika and Ebola, according to her schedule between August 1 and October 27.
Merck has been working on developing an Ebola vaccine and also makes HIV medications. Bayer has worked with the CDC in the past to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
Records confirm Fitzgerald sold the tobacco company shares on October 26 and all of her stock holdings above $1,000 by November 21, more than four months after becoming head of the CDC.