WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigned Wednesday after reports that she traded in tobacco stocks despite being the nation’s top public health official and heading an agency that has led U.S. anti-smoking initiatives for decades.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, whom President 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.

The stock trading echoes the behavior of Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, who was forced to resign last year amid questions about his frequent use of charter aircraft at taxpayer expense.

While a congressman, Price also traded extensively in health care companies even as he pushed legislation and took other actions that affected many of those same companies.

It is not clear if Fitzgerald, a former OB-GYN doctor and Georgia health commissioner, took any official actions that might have affected the value of her stocks.

But she had recused herself from various duties as CDC director, citing potential conflicts.


A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday that Fitzgerald offered her resignation after raising the recusal issues with the incoming HHS secretary, Alex Azar.

“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,” said Matt Lloyd in a statement. “Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”

On Tuesday, Politico reported that a month after becoming CDC director, Fitzgerald’s financial manager bought shares in Japan Tobacco and the drug companies Bayer and Merck & Co. Those stocks were later sold, Politico reported.

Fitzgerald could not be reached immediately for comment. Her predecessor, Dr. Tom Frieden, said in a statement that Fitzgerald told him she didn’t know about the purchase of the tobacco stocks.

“I have spoken with Dr. Fitzgerald and believe her when she says that she was unaware that a tobacco company investment had been made, she understands that any affiliation between the tobacco industry and public health is unacceptable, and that when she learned of it, she directed that it be sold,” Frieden said.

Fitzgerald, 71, was a long-time OB-GYN in the Atlanta area who led Georgia’s state health department for six years.

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