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Washington curse strikes again

POSTED: February 9, 2018 7:56 a.m.

Washington, D.C. has put a curse on prominent Georgians who go there to work for Donald Trump.
First there was the case of Tom Price, the congressman who was picked to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Price was part of the Republican leadership when the GOP took control of the Georgia Senate in 2003. He followed that with a skillful victory in the 2004 election that vaulted him into the 6th Congressional District seat.
His climb up the ladder continued in the U.S. House, where he was chairman of the House Budget Committee and often mentioned as a potential candidate for speaker.
Then came the call to work in the Trump administration, which gave Price a chance to make good on his long-held wish of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Before Price could carry out any plans to kill Obamacare, he was brought low by his love of perks. It turned out Price preferred to take private charter flights or military planes when going somewhere on official business rather than book passage at a far cheaper rate on a commercial flight.
The cost to taxpayers was steep. When the media started looking at Price’s air travel habits, they determined he had spent about $1 million on these flights.
Trump did not like the unfavorable media coverage that Price brought upon himself, and he was soon on his way back to Roswell.
Then there was Brenda Fitzgerald, an obstetrician-gynecologist and former health policy advisor to Newt Gingrich.
Gov. Nathan Deal picked Fitzgerald to be commissioner of the newly formed state Department of Public Health, where she served for six years.
She was the choice last July of Price, who at the time was still the secretary of HHS, to become the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the most important healthcare positions in federal government.
Where Fitzgerald had enjoyed a reasonably smooth six years as the director of a state public health agency, she ran into roadblocks in Washington.
Members of Congress raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest related to her investments in pharmaceutical and health insurance companies, which might be affected by her actions as CDC director.
The killing blow was a media report last week that disclosed she had purchased stock in a tobacco company after she took over at CDC. That business holding starkly conflicts with the mission of the CDC, where smoking is considered a major public health issue that contributes to the deaths of millions of Americans.
Fitzgerald turned in her resignation, which was quickly accepted.
Who will be the next Georgian to go? The most likely candidate could be Christopher Wray, who was a partner in the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding before Trump picked him last year to replace the dismissed James Comey as FBI director.
Wray now finds himself caught in the crossfire between the White House and the Justice Department over the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
Wray has reportedly threatened to quit over some of the White House demands, but as this column was written he was still the FBI director. But for how long?
The one Georgian who seems to be firmly in place is Sonny Perdue, the former governor who is now the agriculture secretary for the Trump administration.
Perdue has not been caught booking expensive private charter flights and there have been no media reports to date of financial holdings that might amount to a conflict of interest.
Perdue is not only a survivor, he’s a “designated survivor.” When Trump delivered his State of the Union speech last week, Perdue was the chosen cabinet member who did not attend the speech.
He was kept some distance away at an undisclosed location to ensure the continuity of the government in case there was a disaster, such as a terrorist bomb, that killed the president, the vice president, and other cabinet members who happened to be in the vicinity where the speech was given.
Trump delivered his speech without incident, which means that Perdue can return to being just another survivor. Maybe he can last awhile.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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