House Democrats Broaden Probe Into Allegations of Trump-Era Political Interference at CDC

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 27, 2021 Updated: July 27, 2021

Democrats on a House committee probing allegations of political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under the Trump administration on Monday announced they were broadening their investigation, citing newly obtained documents.

As their probe expands, Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis have requested documents and transcribed interviews from eight former and current CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials and employees, as well as three former Trump appointees, according to a press release.

The new requests come amid the release of an updated analysis (pdf) by Select Subcommittee staff that purportedly documents “a total of 88 separate incidents of the Trump Administration’s political interference in the coronavirus response,” including such allegations as lying to the public, sidelining experts, and altering scientific reports.

The analysis claims that the incidents “degraded every major facet of the prior Administration’s public health response,” including the provision of personal protective equipment, vaccine development, and health advice to the public on matters like wearing face masks.

The Select Subcommittee also released a newly obtained email (pdf) sent in August 2020 by a career CDC official to former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, suggesting a meeting to discuss “next steps” after then-HHS science adviser Paul Alexander demanded “an immediate stop” to all of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) “due to their incompleteness of reporting that is done in a manner to mislead the public.”

Alexander, a Trump appointee, alleged in the email that CDC officials appeared to be “writing hit pieces on the administration and meant at this time to impact school reopenings and they then send it to the media knowing it is deceiving.”

“They may say ‘it’s the data’; I agree on one level but they are constantly reporting incompletely and writing in a manner to make the nation run and dig a hole and climb inside with their children for 10 years,” Alexander wrote. “It makes no sense.”

Alexander demanded a stoppage to the MMWR reports so that he could review them for accuracy and other factors.

“Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balance and ‘complete.’ And not misleading,” Alexander wrote.

The Trump administration has denied that any political influence impacted the MMWR reports.

In March, Redfield told CNN in an interview that then-HHS secretary Alex Azar had pressed him to alter the CDC’s reports.

Azar has denied Redfield’s claim that he was pressured to change MMWR data.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, I insisted on giving the public and media access to both critical information and data as soon as we had it, as well as to our scientists,” Azar said in a March statement to Business Insider.

“I have always stood for and defended the scientific independence of the MMWR and other evidence and science-based publications and disclosures from HHS and its agencies, and Dr. Redfield knows this. Any suggestion that I pressured or otherwise asked Dr. Redfield to change the content of a single scientific, peer-reviewed MMWR article is false,” he added.

House Democrats on the Select Subcommittee have requested interviews with former CDC deputy director Anne Schuchat and former CDC official Nancy Messonnier, who held various posts during the pandemic. Former Trump appointees to the CDC Kyle McGowan, Amanda Campbell, and Nina Witkofsky were also contacted with requests for interviews, according to the release.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'