Select Subcommittee Releases New Findings Detailing Trump Administration’s Political Interference in Early Pandemic Response
Washington, D.C. (April 29, 2022) – Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released new evidence from the Select Subcommittee’s ongoing investigation into the Trump Administration’s political interference in the nation’s coronavirus response in advance of a hearing at 9:00 a.m. ET on ensuring scientific integrity in the nation’s public health agencies. Consistent with a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—which found that government scientists observed incidents of political interference in scientific decision-making but did not report them for fear of retaliation or because they believed superiors already knew—today’s evidence sheds new light on the extent to which Trump Administration officials overruled, undermined, and muzzled career public health experts during the critical first year of the pandemic.
Chairman Clyburn issued the following statement on the new evidence:
“The Select Subcommittee continues to unearth disturbing new details on how the Trump Administration’s pandemic response prioritized politics over public health. While a Trump White House official admitted to her colleagues that proposed CDC guidelines for places of worship were reasonable, she worked with them to strong-arm changes to those guidelines that deprived Americans of useful information on how to protect themselves against this deadly virus. As today’s new evidence also makes clear, Trump White House officials worked under the direction of the former president to purposefully undercut public health officials’ recommendations and muzzle their ability to communicate clearly to the American public. I welcome the testimony from GAO officials and experts today as we work to support and build on the Biden Administration’s efforts to ensure scientific integrity at our nation’s public health agencies.”
The evidence released today includes the following findings, which add new detail to the evidence previously released by the Select Subcommittee showing that CDC’s faith-communities guidance first published on May 22 was quickly “softened” after an intervention by the Trump White House:
Trump White House Officials Weakened CDC Public Guidance for Faith Communities, Despite Email Acknowledging the Benefits of CDC’s Recommendations
On the morning of May 21, 2020, the day before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released public health recommendations for faith communities, Trump White House officials made edits to the guidance with no scientific basis. In an email to senior White House officials released today by the Select Subcommittee, Associate White House Counsel May Davis referred to the previous iteration of CDC’s faith-communities guidance as “problematic,” and proposed changes “on top of Kellyanne edits,” referring to former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway.
According to Ms. Davis, these edits “remove[d] tele-church suggestions” from the guidance. The recommendation to attend virtual religious services did not appear in the final guidance.
Despite proposing these changes, Ms. Davis acknowledged that, “personally I will say that if I was old and vulnerable…drive through services would sound welcome.” This impression was consistent with the science informing CDC’s recommendations—earlier in May 2020, CDC had released reports on COVID-19 outbreaks at a choir practice and during church events.
After a Trump White House Official Suggested That Publication of CDC’s Updated Faith-Communities Guidance Be “Contingent” on CDC Removing Information He Found “Offensive,” the Guidance Was Published Without That Information
On the evening of May 21, 2020, CDC sent its updated faith-communities guidance to senior White House officials, including Ms. Conway and Paul Ray, then-Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Mr. Ray opined in an email that CDC’s guidance contained “a significant amount of new content, much of which seems to raise religious liberty concerns.” While not explaining why he thought non-binding recommendations designed to inform Americans on how to most effectively protect themselves from the coronavirus could inhibit religious liberty, Mr. Ray “proposed several passages for deletion” and suggested that the White House instruct CDC that its ability to publish the guidance was “contingent on striking the offensive passages.” In response, Ms. Conway thanked Mr. Ray for “holding firm against the newest round of mission creep.”
The following morning, Mr. Ray requested final White House edits to the guidance, “[i]n view of what I understand to be potential POTUS activity on this[.]” Later that day, President Trump held a previously unannounced briefing at the White House where he threatened to “override” state leaders if they did not immediately reopen churches and other places of worship.
Former CDC Director Robert Redfield Acknowledged That the Muzzling of Career Scientists Undermined the American People’s Trust in the Agency
In excerpts of a transcribed interview released today by the Select Subcommittee, former CDC Director Robert Redfield stated that “one of [his] great disappointments” was “[t]hat HHS basically took over total clearance of briefings by CDC” during the critical early months of the pandemic. In this period, which Dr. Redfield said caused him “PTSD for probably six months,” “none of our [CDC] briefings were approved” by the Trump Administration, who made it clear that “CDC no longer had the ability to do briefings.” The Trump Administration also blocked CDC scientists from sitting for interviews with the media.
When asked what he believed the consequences were of CDC’s inability to provide truthful scientific information to the public during this crucial time, Dr. Redfield stated that “it impacts trust of the American public on the agency.” He also indicated that CDC could operate more effectively “if the public health agency was independent,” based on his experience in the Trump Administration.
Click here to watch today’s Select Subcommittee’s hearing on “Ensuring Scientific Integrity at Our Nation’s Public Health Agencies” at 9:00 a.m. ET.