Dr. Rick Bright alleges in a whistleblower complaint he was...

Dr. Rick Bright alleges in a whistleblower complaint he was removed as a top vaccine official for, in part, resisting political pressure to steer lucrative contracts. Credit: Health and Human Services via AP

Opportunistic infections of a political type seems to be spreading. Three separate instances this week of alleged corruption could stain federal and state efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic and begin rebuilding the economy.

Dr. Rick Bright, removed last month from his post as a top vaccine official, said he was penalized for trying to do his duty for public safety. Bright was known before to have objected to Trump's push to use chloroquine as a possible coronavirus cure. Now, the allegations in his new 89-page whistleblower complaint go much deeper.

Leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services "pressured Dr. Bright to ignore expert recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections and cronyism," the legal complaint states. Specifically, Bright said he objected to an "outsize role played by John Clerici, an industry consultant to pharmaceutical companies" with connections inside the HHS bureaucracy. Clerici allegedly pushed Bright to extend a contract due to expire with a client, Aeolus Pharmaceuticals.

"Mr. Clerici emphasized that Aeolus’s Chief Executive Officer was a 'wildcard' and a friend of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a Senior Advisor to the President," Bright asserted.

That's one intriguing allegation, especially given Kushner's clout in the pandemic effort. Some in Congress are interested. How extensively the complaint will be investigated remains unclear.

Other virus-related probes already are underway.

Medical supply company Blue Flame, now under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, was started in late March by two GOP-connected consultants, according to The Washington Post. State officials in Maryland have terminated a $12.5 million contract with Blue Flame for personal protective equipment because the company allegedly failed to deliver masks and ventilators as promised. Also California's deal with the company to purchase 100 million masks may be endangered.

Blue Flame was launched in late March by Michael Gula, a Republican fundraising and lobbying consultant in Washington, and John Thomas, a California political consultant, the Post reported. Company attorney Ethan Bearman was quoted as saying the firm acted in good faith with both states and declined to comment on the federal probe.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, charged two New England men with fraudulently applying for aid under the massive U.S. program to help small businesses during the pandemic. The case raises questions about efforts to monitor this new blast of federal cash.

The men allegedly applied for a total of more than $500,000 in assistance from the CARES Act's Payroll Protection Program.

Defendants David Staveley and David Butziger allegedly said they had “dozens of employees earning wages at four different business entities when, in fact, there were no employees working for any of the businesses,” the Justice Department said.

Before the Senate Banking Committee this week, Brian Miller faced questions for his confirmation as the new inspector general for coronavirus relief funds. He declined to comment on Trump's history of removing inspectors general whose findings he disliked. Currently, Miller is senior associate counsel at the Office of White House Counsel. Earlier, he was involved in defending Trump during his impeachment trial. Now he may be called on to drain a part of the swamp teeming with potential scandals.