Dr. James Todaro stood on the steps of the Supreme Court last week to join fellow doctors in touting hydroxychloroquine as a viable early-stage treatment for those who contract the coronavirus — and says he was stunned by the backlash.
Video of the doctors triggered the internet, with Twitter pulling down tweets that showed clips of the event, even suspending the account of presidential son Donald Trump Jr., insisting that the doctors and anyone on social media who backed them were spreading bad medicine amid the pandemic.
“I’ve never seen so many different institutional levels attack,” said Dr. Todaro, a former physician turned investment manager with Blocktown Capital. “It seems like a coordinated effort to discredit hydroxychloroquine.”
The treatment, a favorite topic of President Trump especially early in the pandemic, has become a dividing line in America. Many scientists and doctors dismiss it out of hand. Some states have banned its use as a COVID-19 treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has issued strict cautions about its use — though the agency says decisions about it should be left to doctors and patients.
It’s one of many fractures surrounding the coronavirus, pulling back the curtain on the kind of fierce medical debates that usually play out in academic journals and conferences, not on cable news shows.
Dr. Todaro is not the most famous member of the hydroxychloroquine club. Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko in New York did the “clinical legwork” in support of the Zelenko protocol, the controversial early treatment regimen that uses a three-drug cocktail of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc.
But Dr. Todaro has been one of the most effective combatants in the public debate, instrumental in getting retractions from the world’s most prestigious medical journals and a growing social media audience.
He’s even the unexpected possessor of a Twitter “blue check” signifying verified status — “I was kind of surprised I got that,” he told The Washington Times.
He zealously guards his privacy. When asked where he lives and his age, he said, “In the Midwest” and “mid-30s.”
He trained as an ophthalmologist at Columbia University medical school, graduating in 2014, but has since allowed his license to lapse. In addition to the investments, he runs a website, Medicine Uncensored, and says he neither holds drug company stocks nor has placed bets on them, short or long.
Dr. Todaro says he launched Medicine Uncensored because he was startled by the offensive against medicines that he considers safe, effective and affordable. The push against non-patented hydroxychloroquine has come on two fronts, he said, one medical; the other political.
“If it seems like the medical system (e.g., NIH, WHO, medical journals, institutional experts) is rigged against hydroxychloroquine,” he tweeted recently, “it’s because it is.”
The political side of the anti-hydroxychloroquine push he chalks up to hatred for Mr. Trump, but Dr. Todaro insists that alone cannot account for the fury and the breadth of anti-hydroxychloroquine sentiment.
“Many attribute this negative publicity to anti-Trump sentiment from mainstream media outlets including CNN, MSNBC, Washington Post, New York Times and Huffington Post. This thesis does not entirely hold up to scrutiny though,” he wrote in a July essay at Omni.
In fact, as Dr. Todaro points out, at a March 19 press conference in which Mr. Trump heralded hydroxychloroquine, he also mentioned another drug that has been widely embraced by the medical community and media since — remdesivir.
“The media attacked hydroxychloroquine but gave remdesivir a pass when at that time there was no clinical evidence of remdesivir’s effectiveness,” Dr. Todaro said.
Studies have shown remdesivir slices coronavirus’ mortality rate and helps about one-third of coronavirus patients get better quicker. But it also represents a more expensive option, with analysts putting the profits for Gilead Pharmaceutical, its maker, north of $1 billion.
Nevertheless, within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s press conference, Gilead’s share price plunged 20%.
“You might also call it a competition killer, hydroxychloroquine,” Dr. Todaro said. “It’s very hard to make money off it, even if there is grassroots support for it it’s really hard to have a financial interest in it.”
Hydroxychloroquine’s critics argue its benefits appear to be limited to the early stages of the virus and that in sicker patients it can bring on potentially dangerous cardiovascular complications, especially if paired with azithromycin.
One study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in May said hydroxychloroquine’s use to treat COVID-19 led to “an increased risk of in-hospital mortality.”
“We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for the treatment of COVID-19,” the study reported.
That study now has a “RETRACTED” in large red letters on the Lancet website — thanks in large part to Dr. Todaro, after it was shown that the study’s data wasn’t put together by doctors but by a shadowy online group known as Surgisphere that refused to make the data available for an audit.
“I was flabbergasted by that,” Dr. Todaro said. “They say, ‘oh, the peer-review process is so rigorous and it’s very much intact,’ but this phony study wasn’t caught by any of their authors or Lancet editors? That’s never happened before.”
Lost in the controversy surrounding some of Dr. Todaro’s thesis is the fact he thinks remdesivir works, too. He wants to expand the weapons in medicine’s anti-coronavirus arsenal, not undermine other treatments, he said.
In the process, however, he has found himself an outsider, an Ivy League-educated doctor now branded an iconoclast at best, a villain at worst.
“You have to be terrified of it,” he said of the “coordinated effort” to make his position suspect. “I think what I’m offering should be seen as a hub of information.”
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James Comey refuses to discuss allegations Hilary Clinton conjured Trump-Russia scandal
Former FBI Director James B. Comey on Wednesday dodged questions about a 2016 CIA request that the bureau probe Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign over allegations it “stirred up” a scandal linking President Trump to Russia. On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released a letter alleging that the Clinton campaign sought to distract from…
Former FBI Director James B. Comey on Wednesday dodged questions about a 2016 CIA request that the bureau probe Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign over allegations it “stirred up” a scandal linking President Trump to Russia.
On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released a letter alleging that the Clinton campaign sought to distract from Ms. Clinton’s email troubles by tying Mr. Trump to Russia and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
The CIA referral was made to Mr. Comey and then-FBI Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok.
The intelligence community did not initially take a position on the accuracy of the claims, raising the possibility it might be Russian disinformation. Still, they wanted the FBI to look deeper into the issue.
When pressed about the letter during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Comey declined to address it.
“I can’t answer that,” Mr. Comey said about the letter. “I’ve read Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter, which I, frankly, have trouble understanding.”
When pressed again, Mr. Comey doubled down on his refusal to address the Ratcliffe letter.
“I don’t understand Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter well enough to comment,” Mr. Comey continued. “It’s confusing and contains within it a statement that its unverified information. So I really don’t know what he’s doing.”
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James McConville, Army chief of staff, defends Pentagon brass
The Army’s top general on Tuesday defended senior military officials against accusations they are interested only in keeping defense contractors happy, following President Trump’s controversial Labor Day comments that top Pentagon brass probably don’t support him “because they want to do nothing but fight wars.” Speaking in an online interview hosted by the Defense One…
The Army’s top general on Tuesday defended senior military officials against accusations they are interested only in keeping defense contractors happy, following President Trump’s controversial Labor Day comments that top Pentagon brass probably don’t support him “because they want to do nothing but fight wars.”
Speaking in an online interview hosted by the Defense One military website, Army Chief of Staff James McConville declined to address the specific comments made by his commander-in-chief.
“We live in a political environment, but we’re an apolitical organization,” Gen. McConville said. “It really must remain that way, especially with an election coming up.”
But, he noted that “many” generals and admirals leading the U.S. armed forces are also parents of military troops.
“Many of these leaders have sons and daughters that have gone to combat or maybe are in combat right now,” Gen. McConville said.
His comments amounted to the first formal response from the Defense Department to the president’s comments about powerful defense contractors “that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
“I can assure the American people, the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required for national security and as a last resort,” Gen. McConville said. “We take it very, very seriously how we make our recommendations.”
The latest controversy follows an article in The Atlantic based on anonymous sources that said Mr. Trump ridiculed American personnel who died in battle as “losers” and “suckers.”
While other news organizations have confirmed the reporting through their own anonymous sources, several former or present White House figures have gone on the record to denounce the original story.
Gen. McConville cited the contributions Army personnel have made in a domestic setting, such as helping to fight fires in the western United States or taking lead roles in several skirmishes against the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. But any law enforcement assignment for the Army should only be handed down as an absolute last resort.
“The job of the American military is to protect the nation — not police the nation. That’s why we have police officers,” he said. “Only in the most extreme conditions should that be considered.”
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James Comey, former FBI director: No contact with Durham probe, ‘not worried at all’
Former FBI Director James B. Comey said Sunday he hasn’t been contacted by John Durham, the U.S. attorney tapped to review the 2016 probe into the Trump campaign, and he’s “not worried at all” as President Trump derides him as a dirty cop. Speaking to CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Comey said he saw reports…
Former FBI Director James B. Comey said Sunday he hasn’t been contacted by John Durham, the U.S. attorney tapped to review the 2016 probe into the Trump campaign, and he’s “not worried at all” as President Trump derides him as a dirty cop.
Speaking to CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Comey said he saw reports that former CIA Director John O. Brennan was interviewed as part of the Durham probe.
But Mr. Comey hasn’t spoken to Mr. Durham and said he “can’t imagine” that he is a target in the investigation.
“Given that I know what happened during 2016, which was a bunch of people trying to do the right thing consistent with the law, I’m not worried at all about that investigation of the investigation,” Mr. Comey said. “Next, I’m sure, will be an investigation of the investigation of the investigation. They just want to have an investigation to talk about.”
The Durham team is poring over the 2016 probes as Mr. Trump fumes over the saga that loomed over his first term, including former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report published last week didn’t find evidence of collusion to influence the election but highlighted unusual contacts between a high-ranking campaign official and someone they describe as a Russian intelligence officer.
While there are no indications Mr. Brennan and Mr. Comey are targets of the Durham probe, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty Wednesday to making false statements, admitting that in early 2017 he altered an email to say former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was not a source for the CIA when, in fact, he was.
Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May 2017 and frequently rails against him as crooked, saying he used FBI powers to spy on his campaign.
Speaking to CBS, Mr. Comey defended his agency for looking into Russia’s activities vis-a-vis the Trump campaign, citing the Senate report that detailed frequent communications between ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman who the committee describes as “a Russian intelligence officer.”
“Let that sink in and then ask yourself, so there was nothing to investigate here, as [Attorney General] Bill Barr says, it was a hoax? The Republicans have exploded that nonsense,” Mr. Comey said, referring to GOP lawmakers who signed off on the intelligence report.
The committee said it was “unable to determine why” Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data and campaign strategy with Mr. Kilimnik, or if Mr. Kilimnik further shared that information.
Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, highlighted this portion of the report as the most explosive.
“Maybe one of the most stunning was the level of detail of the then-campaign manager Paul Manafort sharing very specific campaign information with a Russian agent,” Mr. Warner told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’ll never know what the Russians did with that information, but think about that. A campaign manager, sharing with a known Russian agent during the middle of a campaign.”
Mr. Comey, meanwhile, accepted criticism for not taking a more aggressive stance in warning the Democratic National Committee that Russians gained access to their servers. Hacked emails were released by Wikileaks, upending Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“I think at the time, our folks thought that just telling an institution that the Russians are inside your house was enough,” Mr. Comey said. “But I think part of what may have led to a lack of urgency at the DNC and at the FBI is that nobody anticipated this wasn’t normal intelligence gathering by the Russians, this was an effort to weaponize. And if anybody had seen that, I think they would have yelled a little bit more loudly.”
He also said he regretted becoming involved in the 2016 race — but had no choice — after Mrs. Clinton tweeted a smirk at Mr. Comey’s recently tweeted photo of himself wearing an “Elect More Women” T-shirt.
Clinton supporters blamed her loss in large part on late revelations from the FBI about her use of a private email server for official business and its connection to a probe of ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner.
“We were stuck, and I think we made the right decisions choosing between terrible options,” Mr. Comey said. “And so I wasn’t trying, nor was anybody else in the FBI trying to elect or not elect anyone.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.
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