The U.S. is currently in the midst of a deadly flu outbreak, so it’s not optimal timing for the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resign because of a number of conflicts, but that’s just what happened Wednesday.
In a statement to the New York Times, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar (himself only recently installed in his position because of Tom Price’s use of private planes), said that now-former director Brenda Fitzgerald would resign because of her “complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all her duties as the C.D.C. director.” Azar’s statement added that, “due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”
According to Politico, Fitzgerald was facing scrutiny from some in Congress for taking too long to divest from a number financial investments, including tobacco stocks purchased after she became CDC director. Obviously, anti-smoking programs are a large part of the CDC’s efforts:
Critics say her trading behavior broke with ethical norms for public health officials and was, at best, sloppy. At worst, they say, it was legally problematic if she didn’t recuse herself from government activities that could have affected her investments.
Fitzgerald is also a medical doctor and the former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. According to records obtained under the Stock Act, which requires disclosures over $1,000, Fitzgerald bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of stocks during the first three months of her tenure at the CDC, including some stock of Japan Tobacco, which sells brands like Camel and Natural American Spirit in the United States.