Select Subcommittee Releases New Evidence of Trump Administration’s Political Meddling in Coronavirus Guidance, Testing and Treatments
Washington, D.C. (February 8, 2021) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent letters to White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Norris Cochran, renewing the Select Subcommittee’s investigation into political interference that crippled the previous Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since its establishment by the House of Representatives in April 2020, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has been investigating the federal government’s response to the pandemic. These investigations have shown that the previous Administration engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation’s public health response—interfering with the work of scientists and making decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly in order to advance President Trump’s partisan agenda,” wrote Chairman Clyburn. “The Select Subcommittee is continuing these critical investigations in the 117th Congress in order to understand what went wrong over the last year and determine what corrective steps are necessary to control the virus and save American lives.”
Today’s letters highlight evidence recently obtained by the Select Subcommittee that raise further questions about political interference with the coronavirus response during the previous Administration:
Trump Administration Weakened CDC Guidance to Hide Positive Tests While Promoting Reopening
- Documents show that the Trump Administration weakened CDC testing guidance in August 2020 for the express purpose of hiding evidence of the rapidly spreading virus, in order to quickly reopen businesses while allowing the virus to spread undetected. In an August 27, 2020, email, HHS Senior Advisor Paul Alexander wrote that the change to the guidance followed “extensive debate amongst the White House Task Force members.” He wrote that the Trump Administration changed the guidance to avoid identifying “asymptomatic infections in low risk people,” because these tests were causing infected people to quarantine, which he complained was “preventing the workforce from working” and would not allow schools to “optimally re-open.”
Trump Officials Manipulated Public Health Information
- Emails show that appointees at HHS, possibly at President Trump’s direction, worked to devise a model that would justify rapidly reopening businesses in May 2020. On May 16, 2020, HHS Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo wrote: “I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening. We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides! 155,000 more trauma deaths! 240,000 hospitals will close! 400,000 heath [sic] care workers jobless! 170,000 more high school dropouts! Etc”
- In response, Dr. Alexander came up with a model that projected two to four times the number of deaths forecasted by CDC and others. Dr. Alexander later admitted that he believed models of viral outbreaks could be manipulated to serve political goals, writing: “Ah models, I can manipulate models to make it what I want...we all do.”
- Documents show that Dr. Alexander consulted with White House officials, including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Scott Atlas, during his campaign to pressure career CDC officials to change scientific reports he felt were politically damaging to President Trump. For example, on September 11, 2020, Dr. Alexander emailed Dr. Atlas about a forthcoming CDC report on coronavirus deaths in young people, which he claimed was “very duplicitous to damage the administration.” He asked Dr. Atlas to help “craft an op-ed … disputing the reporting for on face value, it is meant to mislead.”
Trump Appointees Pressed FDA Director to Approve Treatments Over Objections of Scientists
- Documents reveal that HHS political appointees pushed FDA to approve coronavirus treatments including hydroxychloroquine. For example, on July 19, 2020, Dr. Alexander wrote to then-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn about a study purporting to show benefits of hydroxychloroquine, explaining “I want to help the administration,” and complaining, “we are being fought by the other side and media which is horrendous.”
- On August 19, 2020, Dr. Alexander urged Commissioner Hahn to quickly issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for convalescent plasma. He forwarded a summary of studies on the subject, writing, “I share this to help give us cover in our decisions.” He also advised Commissioner Hahn to disregard objections from National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci, writing, “NIH has stepped out of their lane.” Three days later, on August 23, 2020, FDA granted the EUA. Commissioner Hahn later apologized for citing misleading statistics on the treatment’s effectiveness.
Today’s letters seek additional documents and information on the Trump Administration’s political interference with the nation’s public health response. These document requests are necessary because the Trump Administration repeatedly obstructed the Select Subcommittee’s investigations, even after Chairman Clyburn issued subpoenas to then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar and then-CDC Director Robert Redfield in December 2020.
Chairman Clyburn wrote: “The previous Administration also refused to cooperate with the Select Subcommittee’s inquiries, with the White House and other agencies blocking documents and witnesses related to the politicization of public health information, testing and supply shortages, vaccine development and distribution, and other critical aspects of the nation’s virus response.”
Click here to read today’s documents released by the Select Subcommittee.