Brenda Fitzgerald, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has resigned following a report that she traded tobacco stock while leading the agency tasked with reducing use of tobacco. The Department of Health and Human Services accepted Fitzgerald's resignation.
"This morning Secretary Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," the Health and Human Services department said in a statement.
"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," the statement said. "Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period. After advising Secretary Azar of both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal, Dr. Fitzgerald tendered, and the Secretary accepted, her resignation. The Secretary thanks Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald for her service and wishes her the best in all her endeavors."
Politico first reported the shares purchase after obtaining documents through a FOIA request that showed they were just one of about a dozen investments made soon after Fitzgerald took over the agency's directorship.
The shares in the tobacco company come as a stark contrast to the CDC's goals in preventing smoking-related diseases and deaths.
The agency's Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) says it's the "lead federal agency for comprehensive tobacco prevention and control." The CDC says that OSH "saves lives and saves money by preventing and reducing tobacco use."
According to the CDC, Fitzgerald was appointed as the 17th director of the agency as well as the Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on July 7, 2017.
A board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who practiced medicine for three decades, Fitzgerald previously served as Georgia's Department of Public Health commissioner and state health officer from 2011 to 2017.
Fitzgerald's predecessor, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, tweeted that he had spoken with Fitzgerald and believes her when she says "she was unaware a tobacco company investment had been made." Frieden added that Fitzgerald "understands that any affiliation between the tobacco industry and public health is unacceptable" and that when she learned of the situation "she directed it be sold."
According to CDC's leadership site, Dr. Anne Schuchat is now listed as the Acting CDC Director. Schuchat was previously serving as the Principal Deputy Director before Fitzgerald resigned, a role she has held since 2015.
Schuchat played key roles in a number of CDC emergency responses including the Ebola outbreak, the 2009 H1N1 response and SARS outbreak in Beijing in 2003.
This is a developing story and will be updated.