CDC Chief Resigns After Her Purchase of Tobacco Stocks Is Revealed

She also held pharmaceutical stocks during her tenure that posed a conflict of interest.

Associated Press

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The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigned Wednesday morning after an investigation revealed that she had bought tobacco stocks shortly after assuming a job that put her in charge of promoting health across the country. 

Brenda Fitzgerald, who has led the CDC under President Donald Trump for the past six months, resigned because “certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Matt Lloyd said in a statement on Wednesday. Fitzgerald “could not divest from them in a definitive time period,” Lloyd said.

Fitzgerald’s resignation came a day after a Politico investigation revealed that about a month into her tenure as CDC chief, Fitzgerald bought stock in Japan Tobacco, a major player in the cigarette industry. A day later, she visited the CDC research center devoted to helping Americans quit smoking. Politico reported that in her former role as Georgia’s health commissioner, Fitzgerald spearheaded a campaign to end tobacco use—while holding stocks in tobacco companies. (Georgia ethics rules allow this.)

During her time at the CDC, Fitzgerald also held stock in pharmaceutical companies including Merck and Bayer. Politico notes that those companies were working in areas where the CDC has a vested interest, such as vaccine development and containment of outbreaks.  

This isn’t the first time Fitzgerald’s interests have come under scrutiny. In July, Mother Jones reported on her past private practice as an OB-GYN, when she promoted a controversial anti-aging therapy that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support. As Georgia’s public health commissioner, she also partnered with Coca-Cola on a campaign to fight obesity. 

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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