The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resigned because of financial conflicts of interest, government officials announced Wednesday.
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s complex financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult to do her job, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.
Alex Azar, who was sworn in as head of the department Monday, accepted her resignation.
Fitzgerald’s investments have “imposed a broad recusal 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.”
Fitzgerald’s resignation follows a news report Tuesday that her financial manager bought tobacco and drug stocks after she took the job in July, while selling other stocks that posed a conflict of interest.
She had owned a range of stocks, including holdings in beer and soda companies, the tobacco company Philip Morris International, and a number of health care companies. She said she sold the stocks, but in December U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote Fitzgerald saying she was concerned about unresolved financial holdings.
Government documents showed that Fitzgerald was unable to sell certain long-term investments in companies that could prevent her from talking about cancer and prescription drug monitoring programs, wrote Murray.
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, a former major in the U.S. Air Force, and campaigned twice, unsuccessfully, as a Republican candidate for Congress in the 1990s. She led Georgia’s state health department for six years before being tapped for the CDC job.