Chair Clyburn Seeks Interviews with Trump Administration Advisors on Roles in Pandemic Response
Washington D.C. (April 9, 2021)—Today, Chairman James E. Clyburn sent letters to three Trump Administration advisors—Dr. Scott Atlas, Dr. Paul Alexander, and Dr. Steven Hatfill—seeking documents and transcribed interviews regarding their roles in the Trump Administration’s pandemic response. Chairman Clyburn also released new documents obtained in the Select Subcommittee’s ongoing investigations into the Trump Administration’s political interference with the pandemic response and haphazard efforts to obtain critical supplies. The Select Subcommittee began these inquiries last year, but faced months of obstruction by the Trump Administration.
“Documents recently obtained by the Select Subcommittee indicate that you were aware of, and may have participated in, efforts to attack reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to justify President Trump’s push to reopen. The investigation has also revealed that you advocated for policies that would allow the virus to spread widely among many Americans,” wrote Chairman Clyburn to Dr. Atlas. “We are continuing the investigation in order to understand what went wrong and determine what corrective steps are necessary to control the virus, save American lives, and ensure that similar mistakes can never happen again.”
Today’s letters detail the following evidence obtained by the Select Subcommittee:
Trump Appointee Bragged About Influencing CDC Scientific Reports
In October 2020, then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified that Dr. Alexander had no “authority over determining the final publication of” CDC’s scientific reports. However, new evidence indicates Dr. Alexander boasted about successfully influencing CDC’s reports. For example:
- On August 30, 2020, Dr. Alexander wrote to then-CDC Acting Chief of Staff Nina Witkofsky regarding an apparent shift in the tenor of MMWR articles, stating, “The last 2 MMWR reports have been more positive than usual and I find encouraging. … Have we been able to at last to impress upon them that it is easy to see how they report? And now they are forced to balance? … So have you seen this shift? Maybe you are having a huge impact and this is tremendous. Well done!”
- On September 9, 2020, Dr. Alexander wrote to then-HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo describing two “[e]xamples of CDC adjusting writing based on [his] inquiry.” This included eliminating a reference to potential virus outbreaks in schools. Dr. Alexander wrote, “small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!”
Trump Appointees Attacked CDC’s Guidance and Advocated for Dangerous Herd Immunity Strategy
- On September 3, 2020, Dr. Alexander asked Dr. Atlas to draft an op-ed to push back against masking children and closing schools during the pandemic, writing: “I think a short 400 word op-ed on this will help people push back to school, I do think locking down our kids (and healthy adults) and masking them can dampen their functional immune systems. Do you think this can be done???”
- On September 8, 2020, Dr. Alexander worked on a draft op-ed under Dr. Atlas’ name advocating for keeping colleges and universities open for in-person learning during the pandemic—contrary to CDC guidance. The op-ed was published in the New York Post on September 15, and argued that: “Universities should stay open, even when they see an increase in cases… Yes, cases will increase among young people as they socially interact, but that shouldn’t be a cause for panic.”
- Documents previously obtained by the Select Subcommittee indicated Dr. Atlas and Dr. Alexander played key roles in the promotion of a dangerous herd immunity strategy at the White House.
Trump Administration Advisors Used Personal Email Accounts for Government Work
- On May 17, 2020, Mr. Caputo wrote to Dr. Alexander from his personal email account that President Trump “wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening,” calling the task “singularly important to what you and I want to achieve.” Dr. Alexander forwarded this email to his own personal email account and to a former colleague outside of the government, writing, “data to research urgently on private laptop.” Documents previously released by the Select Subcommittee show that Dr. Alexander and Mr. Caputo then worked with White House officials to devise a model to justify rapidly reopening businesses in May 2020.
- On July 27, 2020, Dr. Alexander corresponded using his personal email account about a draft op-ed attempting to rebut a CDC report on an outbreak at a Georgia summer camp. Dr. Alexander forwarded a draft of the op-ed to other Trump Administration officials, writing “here is a piece to rebut that poor CDC MMWR… this has very re-assuring information and even for the White House.” The Select Subcommittee previously released evidence showing that the op-ed—which went through several drafts at HHS but was not published—was part of a broader strategy to discredit CDC and downplay the risk of children transmitting the coronavirus.
Trump Administration’s Outside Advisor Pressured Agencies to Award Lucrative Contracts
Last week, the Select Subcommittee released evidence that the Trump Administration relied on Dr. Hatfill—an associate of Stephen Bannon and an outside advisor to then-Assistant to the President Peter Navarro who endorsed hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment—to negotiate key supply contracts on behalf of the federal government. For example:
- During negotiations over a powered respirator contract on March 25, 2020, an executive at AirBoss Defense Group (ADG) wrote to FEMA: “I received a phone call from Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfield [sic] telling me that ‘your government appreciates what you can do, and now we need you to trust your government and begin to execute.’ ‘We will get you on contract as quick as we can. Everything you have requested is ok.’” On March 31, 2020, FEMA awarded ADG a $96 million sole-source contract.
- Also on March 31, 2020, Phlow Corporation’s cofounder sent Dr. Hatfill an email regarding negotiations involving a BARDA pharmaceutical contract. The email, copied to a White House official, thanked Dr. Hatfill for “reaching out to Rick [Bright, then-Director of BARDA] to encourage our program and support its quick realization.” On May 18, 2020, first-time government contractor Phlow was awarded a $354 million no-bid contract by BARDA.
Click here to read the letter to Dr. Paul Alexander, former HHS Senior Advisor.
Click here to read the letter to Dr. Scott Atlas, former Special Advisor to the President.
Click here to read the letter to Dr. Steven Hatfill, former advisor to Assistant to the President Peter Navarro.
Click here to read the new documents released today.