New Select Subcommittee Report Reveals Full Scope of Trump Administration’s Embrace of a Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity via Mass Infection Strategy

Jun 21, 2022
Press Release
Report is the first in a series on the Select Subcommittee’s investigation into the Trump Administration’s political interference with the federal coronavirus response

Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2022) – Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, released a staff report revealing new evidence of the far-reaching support for a dangerous and discredited herd immunity via mass infection strategy inside the Trump White House. The embrace of this strategy enabled Trump Administration officials to justify forgoing meaningful action to curb the spread of the virus when no vaccines were available and treatments were limited, likely contributing to many preventable deaths in the fall and winter of 2020-2021. 

This staff report is the first installment in a series on the Trump Administration’s rampant political interference with the federal public health response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chairman Clyburn released the following statement about today’s report:

“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed extensive evidence of the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine the nation’s public health response to the coronavirus crisis in an attempt to benefit the former president politically. As today’s report makes clear, senior officials in the previous Administration embraced a dangerous and discredited herd immunity via mass infection strategy promoted by non-expert advisers like Dr. Scott Atlas and recklessly allowed the coronavirus to infect Americans before vaccines were widely available. This dereliction of duty resulted in significant loss of life that could have been prevented. We must honor those we’ve lost by bringing this shameful recent history to light and ensuring that it is never repeated—politics must never again be prioritized over the health and lives of the American people.”

Today’s staff report, titled, “The ‘Atlas Dogma’: The Trump Administration’s Embrace of a Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity via Mass Infection Strategy,” is available in full here and reveals the following key findings:

Outspoken Proponents of a Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity Strategy Attempted to Influence the Trump Administration’s Pandemic Response from the Earliest Months of the Coronavirus Crisis

  • During a transcribed interview, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx revealed to the Select Subcommittee that Dr. Scott Atlas’s “influence began much earlier than his July 2020 arrival into the White House” when he formally became a Special Advisor to the President. For instance, an email released for the first time today shows that Dr. Atlas contacted Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma on March 21, 2020, arguing that the federal government’s pandemic response was “a massive overreaction” that was “inciting irrational fear” in Americans. In the email, Dr. Atlas incorrectly estimated that the coronavirus “would cause about 10,000 deaths”—which he wrote was comparable to the toll from a normal flu season and “would be unnoticed”—and said, “The panic needs to be stopped.”

Jared Kushner Secretively Hired Dr. Atlas in July 2020 and Initially Concealed His Role Before Dr. Atlas Received Sweeping Access to Top White House Officials

  • New evidence obtained by the Select Subcommittee shows that White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner initially took steps to conceal Dr. Atlas’s July 2020 hiring for several weeks. For instance, Dr. Atlas informed the Select Subcommittee in a transcribed interview that Mr. Kushner instructed him not to announce himself on conference calls and directed him to hide his White House identification card in his briefcase before first meeting with Dr. Birx.
  • Later, Dr. Atlas was given an office in the White House and was granted extensive access to the highest levels of government. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Atlas “had the ear” of the president on pandemic policy. Confirming prior reports, Dr. Birx told the Select Subcommittee that she believed President Trump received “parallel data streams” from Dr. Atlas that differed from the data provided by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and that this information influenced President Trump to downplay the severity of the virus and reject many mainstream mitigation measures. Mr. Kushner also included Dr. Atlas in a series of meetings referred to as “China Virus Huddles,” which were attended by an exclusive group of President Trump’s inner circle.

Dr. Atlas Successfully Pressed the Trump Administration to Weaken CDC’s Coronavirus Testing Guidance, Resulting in a Reduction of Tests

  • New evidence obtained by the Select Subcommittee shows that Dr. Atlas set in motion significant changes to CDC’s testing guidance within days of arriving in the White House. On August 3, 2020, Dr. Atlas prepared a memorandum titled “Specific Notes on Prioritized Testing,” which claimed that it was “harmful to do massive testing,” and argued that “people have been convinced that ‘testing, testing, testing’ is urgent for everyone—that is false.”
  • Director Redfield revealed in a transcribed interview that “significant people” inside the Trump Administration made clear shortly after Dr. Atlas arrived that “there needed to be some curtailment of the amount of testing that was done.” Director Redfield and other Trump Administration officials told the Select Subcommittee that Dr. Atlas spearheaded changes to CDC’s testing guidance made on August 24, 2020, which resulted in CDC no longer recommending that all close contacts of individuals infected with coronavirus get tested. A recommendation that such individuals isolate for 14 days, after being included in a draft, was also deleted before publication.
  • Dr. Atlas became enraged after CDC, on September 18, 2020, restored its original recommendation that all close contacts get tested. Director Redfield told the Select Subcommittee that Dr. Atlas “aggressively spoke to me in loud terms” and accused him of not having the approval to make the changes. HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, the Trump Administration’s “Testing Czar,” told the Select Subcommittee that he recognized the potential that “somebody wanted to fire me” for his involvement in restoring the original testing recommendation. 
  • Dr. Birx told the Select Subcommittee that the August 24, 2020, guidance ultimately resulted in a “dramatic decline of the number of tests performed during the end of August and the beginning of September.” In a September 16, 2020, email obtained by the Select Subcommittee, Dr. Atlas acknowledged to other senior White House officials that testing had decreased, but argued that “pushing more testing is destructive to opening” and proposed a further “ACTION” calling to make PCR tests less sensitive. 

Dr. Atlas Advanced His Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity Strategy Within the Trump Administration

  • The Select Subcommittee’s investigation uncovered internal memoranda used by Dr. Atlas to push the Trump Administration to jettison proven mitigation measures and deliberately reduce testing—months before the first coronavirus vaccines were available to the public. One undated memorandum criticized the pandemic response strategy advocated by mainstream public health officials and argued: “Stopping all cases is not necessary, nor is it possible. It instills irrational fear into the public.” The memorandum also argued that widespread testing “sets up an unattainable goal that is harming this president.”
  • In a newly released email to senior White House officials on October 4, 2020, Dr. Atlas mocked then-candidate Joe Biden’s embrace of then-prevailing public health practices, writing: “Joe Biden’s policy is mask mandates and lockdowns. That is also the CNN and MSNBC attack narrative.” Dr. Atlas falsely told the senior White House officials that “the research studies, the best data, indicates that general masks are not effective.” 
  • Dr. Atlas also used his newfound position of power to recruit herd immunity proponents to meet with multiple senior Administration officials, including President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Azar. Director Redfield said that Dr. Atlas arranged these meetings “to convince people that herd immunity was going to save us, and this thing was going to go bye-bye.” Following one of these meetings, Secretary Azar tweeted that the herd immunity proponents provided “strong reinforcement” of the Trump Administration’s ongoing response strategy.

Top Trump Administration Officials Ignored Multiple Warnings and Embraced Dr. Atlas’s Herd Immunity Strategy, Resulting in Preventable Illness and Death

  • Dr. Atlas told the Select Subcommittee that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Assistant to the President Hope Hicks, Chief of Staff to the Vice President Marc Short, and HHS Deputy Chief of Staff Paul Mango, among others, came to support at least some of the pandemic policy views he was urging the Administration to adopt. He also said that he inferred that President Trump “was in agreement” with his views on the pandemic, given President Trump’s “own words.”
  • Director Redfield said that Dr. Atlas “successfully got a lot of people within the Task Force and the White House to believe that all we had to do was get to herd immunity” in order to contain the virus. Dr. Birx similarly said that Dr. Atlas’s herd immunity approach gained steam inside the White House throughout the fall of 2020. Doctors on the Task Force said they raised their concerns with Vice President Pence, Mr. Kushner, and Mr. Short, but no action was taken. 
  • With Dr. Atlas’s influence fully entrenched, the Trump White House made little attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the fall and winter of 2020 and early 2021—even as outbreaks surged across the country. With Dr. Atlas providing a veneer of scientific backing to justify inaction, the Trump Administration instead focused on downplaying the threat of the virus leading up to the November presidential election and on advancing the Big Lie in the weeks that followed. Dr. Birx informed the Select Subcommittee that, in her view, more than 130,000 American lives could have been saved after the first wave of the pandemic if President Trump and his Administration had implemented “optimal mitigation across this country.”

For the past two years, the Select Subcommittee has been investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the American people receive a full accounting of what went wrong and to determine what corrective steps are necessary for our nation to be better prepared for any future public health crisis. 

In June 2020, the Select Subcommittee opened an inquiry into the extent to which President Trump sought to suppress testing to artificially reduce the number of coronavirus cases reported nationwide. In October 2020, the Select Subcommittee began investigating whether the Trump Administration was pursuing a herd immunity via mass infection strategy after evidence suggested HHS Secretary Alex Azar may have provided misleading testimony on that subject during a Select Subcommittee hearing. Since then, the Select Subcommittee has expanded its investigation as evidence mounted showing that senior Trump Administration officials embraced a herd immunity strategy in the lead up to and after the November presidential election.

Click here to read today’s report.

Click here to read the full transcribed interview with Dr. Atlas released today.

Click here to read excerpts from a transcribed interview with Dr. Birx released today.

Click here to read the full transcribed interview with Admiral Giroir released today.

Click here to read excerpts from a transcribed interview with Director Redfield released today.

117th Congress