Whistleblower says White House focused on containing coronavirus rather than preparing for outbreak

Whistleblower Rick Bright tells Norah O'Donnell the government's focus on containing the COVID-19 outbreak early on missed the point that preparedness was even more critical. See the full interview with Bright, Sunday on 60 Minutes.

Bright: Leadership focused on containment
Bright: Leadership focused on containment 01:27

Ousted government scientist Rick Bright says that in January and February, the administration focused its efforts on containing the COVID-19 outbreak because some mistakenly believed it could be kept from spreading in the U.S. But just as important, Bright says, was preparing for the inevitable: that it would strike America hard.

Bright filed a whistleblower complaint charging the Trump administration with failing to heed his calls for preparation and then ending his role as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He speaks to Norah O'Donnell in his first interview since his removal from BARDA for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast this Sunday.

In an excerpt from the interview that appeared on the CBS Evening News, O'Donnell notes that Bright says in his complaint that HHS Secretary Alex Azar was intent on downplaying the catastrophic threat.

"Why would he do that?" O'Donnell asked Bright.

"You know, I don't know why he would do that," Bright said.

President Trump was also downplaying the threat. He said at an event in Michigan on January 30, "We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment."

"Remember, the entire leadership was focused on containment," Bright told O'Donnell. "There was a belief that we could contain this virus and keep it out of the United States. Containment doesn't work. Containment does buy time. It could slow. It very well could slow the spread. But while you're slowing the spread, you better be doing something in parallel to be prepared for when that virus breaks out. That was my job."

The Department of Health and Human Services has said that it strongly disagrees with the claims in Bright's complaint and Secretary Azar said, "his allegations do not hold water."

See the full 60 Minutes interview, Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.