New Select Subcommittee Report Uncovers Trump White House’s Extreme Pressure Campaigns Targeting FDA’s Coronavirus Response
Washington, D.C. (August 24, 2022) – Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, released a staff report revealing extensive new evidence of the Trump White House’s relentless pressure campaigns targeting the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) coronavirus response.
This staff report is the second installment in a series of reports documenting the Select Subcommittee’s findings from its investigation into the Trump Administration’s rampant political interference with the federal public health response to the coronavirus pandemic. The first installment chronicled the Trump White House’s embrace of a dangerous and discredited herd immunity via mass infection strategy well before vaccines were available, in an effort to prioritize then-President Trump’s political prospects at the expense of public health.
Chairman Clyburn released the following statement about today’s report:
“The Select Subcommittee’s findings that Trump White House officials deliberately and repeatedly sought to bend FDA’s scientific work on coronavirus treatments and vaccines to the White House’s political will are yet another example of how the prior Administration prioritized politics over public health. As today’s report makes clear, senior Trump Administration officials undermined public health experts because they believed doing so would benefit the former president politically—plotting covertly with known conspiracy theorists to dangerously push a disproven coronavirus treatment, bullying FDA to change its vaccine guidance, and advocating for federal investigations into those who stood in their way. These assaults on our nation’s public health institutions undermined the nation’s coronavirus response—and are precisely why we must never again settle for leaders who prioritize politics over keeping Americans safe.
“Today’s report also contains extensive new evidence that Trump White House officials, including Peter Navarro, conducted government business using private email accounts. Unless these officials took steps to preserve these records, this conduct may have violated the Presidential Records Act—a conclusion the Department of Justice reached when it recently filed a lawsuit against Mr. Navarro based on evidence first uncovered by the Select Subcommittee last year. No one is above the law, no matter how high up in the White House they worked, and I applaud the Department of Justice for seeking to uphold the law and hold Mr. Navarro accountable.”
Today’s staff report is entitled “A ‘Knife Fight’ with the FDA: The Trump White House’s Relentless Attacks on FDA’s Coronavirus Response,” and is available in full here. The report reveals the following key findings:
Senior Trump White House Adviser Peter Navarro Exerted Inappropriate Pressure on FDA to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine as a Coronavirus Treatment After It Was Shown to Be Ineffective and Potentially Dangerous
- Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn acknowledged during a transcribed interview that former White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director Peter Navarro exerted inappropriate pressure on FDA to reissue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) after the agency revoked a previous EUA for the drug on June 15, 2020, due to its demonstrated inefficacy as a coronavirus treatment and potential safety issues.
- Newly released documents reveal that Mr. Navarro and Dr. Steven Hatfill—an adjunct assistant professor at George Washington University whom Mr. Navarro brought into the White House in January 2020 to work as a full-time volunteer on the coronavirus response—engaged in “constant fighting” with Dr. Hahn and other federal officials about hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Hatfill declared that White House officials had a “knife fight scheduled with the FDA” over hydroxychloroquine, and said he and Mr. Navarro planned to take the issue to Vice President Pence and President Trump, writing: “We see the VP on Friday” and have “a backchannel to DJT.”
Trump White House Officials Covertly Worked with Outside Groups to Attempt to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine and to Fund Clinical Trials to Justify Its Use
- Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill coordinated with representatives at the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in an effort to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine while obscuring the White House’s involvement. Newly released emails show that Dr. Hatfill drafted “a new EUA request” at Mr. Navarro’s direction, “selected” HFHS to be the submitting institution, and then “transferred the EUA reinstatement letter over to … the Ford System,” which allowed the EUA request to be submitted by HFHS instead of someone affiliated with the White House. HFHS submitted the renewed EUA petition to FDA on July 6, 2020. FDA denied the petition the following month.
- Dr. Hatfill also courted researchers to pursue a study to show the purported benefits of hydroxychloroquine by dangling millions of taxpayer dollars in promised funding—doing so after the drug was shown to be ineffective and potentially dangerous for certain patients.
Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Forged Close Alliances and Coordinated Secretively with Outside Allies—Including Known Conspiracy Theorists—to Amplify External Pressure on FDA to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine
- Working from inside the White House, Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill sought to generate outside support for hydroxychloroquine by engaging known extremists and prolific conspiracists like former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Dr. Jerome Corsi, and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Under Mr. Navarro’s supervision, Dr. Hatfill coordinated with AAPS Executive Director Dr. Jane Orient and Mr. Bannon to gather support for a petition he drafted to “keep pressure on the FDA and the new EUA request” that he was spearheading with HFHS. According to Dr. Hatfill’s internal notes, his “hydroxy petition” received at least “8000 signatures.”
- Dr. Hatfill also engaged Senator Ron Johnson to push White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pressure FDA into renewing the hydroxychloroquine EUA. Following a meeting between Senator Johnson and Mr. Meadows in late August 2020, Senator Johnson reported to Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill that “Meadows said he would ask Sec Azar to issue whatever approval HHS can issue.”
Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Took Steps to Conceal the White House’s Involvement in Mobilizing External Support for Hydroxychloroquine––Including Conducting Official Business with Private Email Accounts
- Dr. Hatfill took steps to obscure his White House affiliation and instead “work from the shadows,” as he described it. Today’s report includes more than 35 previously unreleased emails showing Dr. Hatfill and/or Mr. Navarro conducting official business related to the federal pandemic response using their personal accounts, including encrypted ProtonMail accounts, seemingly without properly preserving these records.
- On August 3, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Mr. Navarro for alleged violations of the Presidential Records Act (PRA), citing documents previously released by the Select Subcommittee showing Mr. Navarro communicated about the federal pandemic response using a private email account during his White House tenure. Evidence released today raises further questions about whether Mr. Navarro—and other Trump White House officials—violated the PRA by using private email accounts to conduct official business without taking steps to preserve those records.
Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Aggressively Attacked Dr. Fauci, Dr. Hahn, and Other Public Health Officials Who Refused to Support Hydroxychloroquine—and Pushed for Them to Be Federally Investigated
- Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill engaged in a coordinated effort to attack federal officials who stood in the way of their attempts to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine. New documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee suggest that these efforts were done to benefit President Trump’s political standing:
- On July 14, 2020, USA Today published an op-ed by Mr. Navarro in which he attacked Dr. Fauci. Two days later, Dr. Hatfill told Garrett Ziegler, a Senior Policy Analyst working under Mr. Navarro, that he was searching for a basis to attack Dr. Fauci and Dr. Hahn, writing: “Peter and the DT [Donald Trump] need some ammunition. Im [sic] currently in the process of specifically outlining what Fauci and Hahn did wrong and the havoc it has caused.”
- Dr. Hatfill later outlined a plan for Mr. Navarro where DOJ would “start an investigation of the Fauci Panel—their emails and other communications” in order to “shut them up for a bit,” and then “pull Hahn in and ask him to re-establish the EUA” for hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Hatfill expressly tied the timing of these actions to when voting in the November presidential election would begin, assuring Mr. Navarro: “Within 10-14 days of the start of HCQ outpatient treatment—figures should start to decrease,” concluding: “Is that not about the same time that some sort of voting goes on ??”
- Dr. Hatfill repeatedly advocated for launching federal investigations into public health officials who opposed hydroxychloroquine, including urging Senator Johnson to call for “a combined HHS-IG and DOJ investigation into the entire HCQ matter.”
Days Before the Republican National Convention, President Trump Expressed “Dismay” About Perceived Delays in an EUA for Convalescent Plasma, While the White House Hastily Convened a Press Conference that Grossly Misstated the Data
- During his transcribed interview, Dr. Hahn recounted that National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins told him during a White House meeting in the weeks before the Republican National Convention (RNC) that President Trump had “express[ed] dismay over NIH potentially putting up roadblocks” to FDA’s authorization of convalescent plasma, after NIH officials raised concerns about insufficient efficacy data to support an EUA.
- After President Trump accused FDA as being part of the “deep state” and deliberately stalling progress on therapeutics like convalescent plasma, Dr. Hahn said he called the president on August 22, 2020, and told him that “we either were nearing a decision or had made a decision” on an EUA. That same day, Dr. Hahn’s Chief of Staff sent a text message to multiple senior political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stating: “potus said a lot of false remarks with Hahn today about what this was, so we need to make sure POTUS talkers are correct.” FDA issued an EUA for convalescent plasma the next day.
- On August 23, 2020—the day before the start of the RNC—the White House hastily convened a press conference to tout the convalescent plasma EUA. In an email previously released by the Select Subcommittee, FDA Associate Commissioner for Media Affairs Emily Miller advised Dr. Hahn on his talking points for the press conference, telling him to “[m]essage positive always.” Dr. Hahn grossly misstated the data on plasma during the press conference, after which he issued a public apology that he said was not cleared through the “normal channels” of the Administration.
Trump Administration Political Appointees Blocked FDA Coronavirus Vaccine EUA Guidance Due to “Objections” Over How It Would Impact the Authorization Timeline Ahead of the Presidential Election
- In September 2020, FDA sent HHS and the White House forthcoming vaccine EUA guidance which, among other things, called for at least two months (60 days) of surveillance data, meaning that FDA likely would not be able to authorize a coronavirus vaccine before the presidential election. Dr. Hahn told the Select Subcommittee that, beginning around mid-September, FDA had multiple meetings and calls with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison, and HHS Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Paul Mango—none of whom are doctors or otherwise specialized in immunology or vaccinology—regarding FDA’s “timeline” and “scientific and clinical rationale for the guidance.”
- After FDA’s guidance was sent to the White House for review, Dr. Hahn said “[t]here were objections about it” from Mr. Meadows and other White House officials, including “pushback about the issue of the 60 days” of surveillance data. Dr. Hahn said he “objected” to attempts to change the guidance because “any changes would be obviously reported and would further reduce vaccine confidence.”
- With its vaccine EUA guidance stalled for weeks by the White House, FDA unilaterally released an informal set of briefing materials on October 6, 2020, which included an appendix that summarized advice that the agency provided to industry regarding EUA applications—and which publicly revealed that the agency wanted two months of surveillance data, despite the ongoing “objections” from the White House. Dr. Hahn told the Select Subcommittee that FDA did not seek approval from HHS or the White House before releasing the informal document, but noted that he “proactively reached out to the White House to let them know that this was going.” Dr. Hahn said Mr. Meadows called him later that day to say that FDA’s formal vaccine EUA guidance was now approved.
Since June 2020, the Select Subcommittee has probed the Trump Administration’s rampant political interference across the federal government’s response to the coronavirus crisis to ensure the American people receive a full accounting of what went wrong and to determine what corrective steps are necessary. This report is based on a review of thousands of pages of internal correspondence from Trump White House officials, senior HHS officials, and other internal documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee that have not previously been released, as well as transcribed interviews with senior officials, including former FDA Commissioner Hahn, involved in the federal government’s coronavirus response.
Click here to read today’s report.
Click here to read the full transcribed interview with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn released today.