Select Subcommittee Launches Investigation Into Political Interference in CDC Scientific Reports on Coronavirus

Sep 14, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (September 14, 2020) — Today, all Democratic Members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Chairman James E. Clyburn, sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield requesting transcribed interviews and documents regarding efforts by the Trump Administration to block the publication of accurate scientific reports related to the coronavirus crisis.

 

“With nearly 200,000 Americans killed and hundreds more dying each day from the coronavirus pandemic, the public needs and deserves truthful scientific information so they can keep themselves and their families healthy,” the Members wrote.  “Yet in discussing the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, President Trump admitted, ‘I wanted to always play it down’ and, ‘I still like playing it down.’  We are gravely concerned by reports showing that the President’s political appointees at HHS have sought to help him downplay the risks of the coronavirus crisis by attempting to alter, delay, and block critical scientific reports from CDC.”

 

Trump Administration officials reportedly began seeking to influence CDC reports, known as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs), after a May 2020 report on the coronavirus accurately described the “rapid acceleration of transmission during March” and warned that “a large proportion of the population remains susceptible” and “the potential for future acceleration remains.” 

 

“Political appointees’ attempts to interfere with CDC’s scientific reports, or MMWRs, risk undermining the scientific integrity of these reports and of the CDC itself,” the letter continued. “MMWRs are drafted by career scientists and disseminate important information to physicians and public health officials around the country.  During the pandemic, experts have relied on these reports to determine how the virus spreads and who is at greatest risk.  Yet HHS officials apparently viewed these scientific reports as opportunities for political manipulation.”

 

Political appointees at HHS, including Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and senior advisor Paul Alexander, have reportedly been especially focused on suppressing truthful CDC reports on risks to children.  In an email, Dr. Alexander called for CDC to alter a report on the virus’s impact on children or “pull it down and stop all reports immediately.”  He claimed without evidence that the scientific report was “designed to hurt this Presidnet [sic].”   

 

“Given the crucial and pressing need for truthful scientific information during this ongoing public health crisis, the Select Subcommittee is seeking 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.”

 

The Select Subcommittee asked HHS and CDC to confirm by September 16, 2020, that the following officials will appear voluntarily for transcribed interviews:

 

·       Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director, CDC

·       Charlotte Kent, MMWR Editor-in-Chief, CDC

·       Nina Witkofsky, Acting Chief of Staff, CDC

·       Trey Moeller, Acting Deputy Chief of Staff, CDC

·       Kate Galatas, Acting Associate Director for Communication, CDC

·       Paul Alexander, Senior Advisor, HHS

·       Michael Caputo, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, HHS

 

The letter also requested the production of documents by September 28, 2020.

 

Click here to read today’s letter.

 

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116th Congress