Statement of CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie

It takes a certain kind of cluelessness for a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to purchase stock in a tobacco company a month after assuming the job as the nation’s top public health official.

In the time leading up to her appointment of the agency that leads the charge on health issues such as tobacco control and thereafter, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald should have been actively divesting herself of holdings that posed a conflict of interest. Inexplicably, she decided to make matters even worse—at a time when her existing holdings were already drawing scrutiny.

The erosion of basic ethical norms in the Trump White House is appalling—and contagious. If the president and other senior White House officials do not see the need to divest themselves of their business interests, why should the director of the CDC? Seen in that broader context, Fitzgerald’s appointment and her brief, ineffective tenure is just a symptom of a gravely serious ethical disease afflicting this administration. It’s an appointment that never should have been made. We hope—perhaps with undue optimism—that the next director will be free of such glaring conflicts and bad judgment.