Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar slammed CNN on Friday night after the network reported he had resigned and was citing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as a reason for his departure.
“Contrary to the @CNN chyron, I am still here serving the American people at HHS,” Azar wrote on Twitter after the network’s report. “I believe it is my duty to help ensure a smooth transition to President-elect Biden’s team during the pandemic and will remain as Secretary through January 20.”
In a separate tweet, Azar confirmed he had submitted a letter of resignation only as part of the routine preparations for a change of administration.
“I handed in my letter this week along with every other political appointee, effective January 20 at noon,” Azar writes, referring to the date and time that President-elect Biden is scheduled to take the oath of office.
Azar also released a copy of his resignation letter, which is addressed to President Trump and dated Jan. 12. It states in the first paragraph that Azar planned his departure for Jan. 20.
“It has been the greatest professional privilege and honor of my life to serve as Secretary,” Azar writes to the president, “and I thank you for the opportunity to serve the American people.”
In reporting Azar’s departure plans, CNN’s Anderson Cooper described the secretary’s reference to the Capitol riot as a “swipe at President Trump.”
The secretary’s letter refers to the Capitol riot as an event that threatens to overshadow the accomplishments of the Health and Human Services Department as well as other branches of the Trump administration.
“Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during this past week, threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this Administration,” Azar writes.
The secretary goes on to ask Trump to “condemn unequivocally any form of violence” and call for no disruption of the inaugural events set for next week.
The letter lists HHS’s accomplishments as dealing with “an unprecedented pandemic,” to which the department responded by bringing “therapeutics and vaccines to the American people in record time” through Operation Warp Speed.
Other accomplishments, he writes, have included “facilitating patient-centered healthcare markets, protecting life and lives, and promoting independence over dependence in our safety-net programs.”
In addition, he adds, regulatory reforms pursued by HHS helped save “billions of dollars and millions of hours of healthcare providers’ time.”
Azar also lists HHS initiatives to combat the opioid crisis and its effort to end the spread of HIV by 2030.
The secretary says that the numerous challenges facing HHS – an agency of some 85,000 employees — as it prepares for the change in administration was the reason he determined “it is in the best interest of the people we serve to remain as Secretary until the end of the term.”
On Thursday, Azar released timeline of U.S. actions to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including how the U.S. initially obtained information about the outbreak through contacts in Taiwan instead of inside the Chinese government.
“Being able to investigate the virus in January would’ve helped the United States and the world develop a science and data-driven response,” Azar said. “Instead we were flying blind, with human-to-human transmission of the virus not officially confirmed until Jan. 20.”
Azar, 53, was confirmed by the Senate to become HHS secretary in January 2018 after being nominated by President Trump. Azar succeeded Tom Price, who had resigned from the position after facing criticism for use of private planes for travel during his official duties.
Azar’s past positions have included being an executive for drugmaker Eli Lilly, serving as general counsel and later deputy secretary at HHS during the George W. Bush administration and serving early in his career as a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.