Former CDC director Frieden said in two morning tweets Wednesday that Fitzgerald had impressed him as "someone who was committed to supporting public health and protecting Americans". After advising [HHS Secretary Alex Azar] of both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal, Dr. Fitzgerald tendered, and the Secretary accepted, her resignation.
Her investments were "limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as CDC Director", HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said in the statement. "Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period", a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.
"In an email, the Fitzgeralds said that the purchase was made by an outside entity contracted by the couple's investment manager and that they didn't have control over which stocks were bought and sold".
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, whom President Donald Trump tapped in summer to head the CDC, purchased shares in Japan Tobacco as well as stocks in a number of health care companies after taking office, according to a report this week by Politico.
Fitzgerald, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has made tobacco efforts a focus of her public health career, despite owning stock in the industry. Those investments prevented her from talking about cancer and prescription drug monitoring programs, Murray wrote. Those stocks were later sold, Politico reported.
Fitzgerald could not be reached immediately for comment.
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Still, the purchase of the tobacco and other stocks raise questions about the laxity with which the Trump administration approaches conflict of interest rules, as well as about the vetting Fitzgerald was subjected to when she was up for consideration for the CDC top job, Giordano said. She recused herself from working on issues related to cancer and opioids, two major public health threats, because of investments that she said were hard to divest.
Fitzgerald, 71, was a long-time OB-GYN in the Atlanta area, a former major in the U.S. Air Force, and campaigned twice, unsuccessfully, as a Republican candidate for Congress in the 1990s. Fitzgerald is an obstetrician and gynecologist from Georgia.
"While having a sitting CDC director buy tobacco shares is bad enough on it own, this episode is yet another setback to public health at a time when multiple threats-from the flu crisis to the opioid epidemic-remain in desperate need of public health leadership, which, so far, has not been forthcoming from President Trump or any of his key appointments in this realm".
"Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the news, 'Yet another example of this administration's dysfunction and questionable ethics'".
The CDC, the nation's top public health agency, is the only federal agency headquartered outside of Washington, D.C. It has almost 12,000 employees, and about three-quarters of them are based in the Atlanta area.