Select Subcommittee Investigation Finds Evidence Career CDC Officials Were Directed to Destroy Record of Political Interference by Trump Administration
Washington, D.C. (December 10, 2020) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released new evidence indicating that Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield may have ordered subordinates to destroy an email showing that senior political appointees in the Trump Administration had attempted to stop the publication of scientific reports on the coronavirus. Chairman Clyburn sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar and Director Redfield seeking immediate compliance with the Select Subcommittee’s investigation into political interference with CDC’s scientific work and requesting a transcribed interview with Director Redfield to further investigate this matter. Director Redfield’s actions were described by a CDC career scientist during a transcribed interview by Select Subcommittee staff.
“I am deeply concerned that the Trump Administration’s political meddling with the nation’s coronavirus response has put American lives at greater risk, and that Administration officials may have taken steps to conceal and destroy evidence of this dangerous conduct,” the Chairman wrote. “It is critical that the Department end its stonewalling, preserve or recover all responsive documents, and provide the documents and witnesses that the Select Subcommittee needs to investigate this conduct and help protect American lives during this deadly pandemic.” The Chairman warned that if the Department failed to make a complete production by December 15, “the Select Subcommittee will have no choice but to issue subpoenas to compel production.”
On December 7, Select Subcommittee staff conducted a transcribed interview of Dr. Charlotte Kent, Chief of the Scientific Publications Branch and Editor-in-Chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) at CDC, regarding attempts by Trump Administration political appointees to interfere with the publication of scientific reports on the coronavirus.
During the interview, Dr. Kent stated that she was instructed to delete an August 8 email sent by HHS senior advisor Dr. Paul Alexander to her, Director Redfield, and HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo. She also stated that she was informed that the direction to delete the email came from Director Redfield. Federal law requires the heads of federal agencies to preserve records, including emails. Intentional destruction of federal records may be punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.
Dr. Kent stated in her interview, “I was instructed to delete the email.” She explained that she understood the instruction was relayed by Dr. Redfield to her supervisor and another member of her staff. She continued, “I went to look for it after I had been told to delete it, and it was already gone.” When asked who deleted the email, she replied, “I have no idea.” Dr. Kent stated, “I considered this to be very unusual.” When asked if she would normally retain this type of email, she stated, “typically it would have been.”
Dr. Kent also revealed that CDC delayed the publication of a scientific article to ensure that it would not be released until after Dr. Redfield’s July 31 testimony before the Select Subcommittee. Dr. Kent testified that she understood that the delay was because, “there was an interview with the congressional Oversight Committee, and there were some very important things that they wanted to convey during that meeting.” When asked whether she was referring to Dr. Redfield’s July 31 testimony before the Select Subcommittee, she responded, “that's probably it.”
At the July 31 hearing, Dr. Redfield testified that he believed schools should reopen for “face-to-face learning” in September 2020 and noted, “There’s really very significant public health consequences of the school closure.” He did not mention the CDC study, which found that the virus spread widely among children at a summer camp in Georgia. The hearing ended at approximately 12:45 p.m., and CDC released the report approximately 15 minutes later, at 1:00 p.m.
Following Dr. Kent’s revelations, HHS abruptly canceled four transcribed interviews scheduled with other CDC employees this week. HHS has also failed to produce key documents requested by the Select Subcommittee in its September 14 letter, despite multiple promises to do so.
The Select Subcommittee’s September 14 letter to Secretary Azar and Director Redfield explained that the investigation sought “to determine the scope of political interference with CDC’s scientific reports and other efforts to combat the pandemic, the impact of this interference on CDC’s mission, whether this interference is continuing, and the steps that Congress may need to take to stop it before more Americans die needlessly.”
“Those goals are even more urgent in light of the information obtained by the Select Subcommittee showing that top CDC and HHS officials may have taken steps to obstruct oversight into their activities and to delay the release of accurate scientific information regarding the coronavirus for political purposes,” the Chairman wrote today.
Today’s letter requests a transcribed interview with Director Redfield on December 17 and warns that HHS’s failure to produce documents responsive to the Select Subcommittee’s September 14 requests by December 15 will force the Subcommittee to issue subpoenas.
Today’s letter also requests the production of documents and communications regarding efforts to delete, conceal, or withhold Dr. Alexander’s August 8 email and demands the rescheduling of the four other transcribed interviews that were to take place this week before their cancellation by HHS.
Click here to read today’s letter to HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield.