A new House report revealed that Donald Trump’s administration has downplayed concerns about the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic and watered down reports providing public health guidance in an effort to advance the former president’s political goals.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Monday released its latest report, drawing evidence from emails, documents and witness interviews to detail how the Trump White House sought to “compromise the scientific integrity” of the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention.
Former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said the administration banned agency officials from participating in interviews or media briefings at a time when he thought Americans “should have listened to leaders of the public health “.
The White House has been trying to assert control over public driving on COVID-19, with Trump installing his ally Michael Caputo as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC’s parent agency. .
Kate Galatas, a senior CDC communications official, told the subcommittee that Caputo acted with the intention of making others “feel threatened”.
The subcommittee saw evidence that Caputo blew up Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, for being “too alarming” during a June 2020 telebriefing.
In a separate case, Paul Alexander, a senior adviser to Caputo, wrote to CDC officials to attack one of their reports, which he considered contradictory with information the White House was spreading, and to argue that the agency’s work was harming the administration, as well as Americans in general.
In May 2020, Alexander also changed the language in a draft CDC statement on the US pandemic death toll to make it “more positive,” according to an email reviewed by the subcommittee.
Redfield also said the administration has “compromised” the agency’s leadership on COVID-19 in several cases to paint a brighter picture of the pandemic.
Efforts by Trump officials to project a better picture of the pandemic in the United States affected employee morale, but could also endanger lives, according to the report.
Dr Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s deputy chief executive, told the subcommittee that she believed fewer Americans would die in the early days of the pandemic if the CDC was allowed to provide accurate information.
Redfield said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of handling the writing process for driving COVID-19 during his time in office.
The report also demonstrated the extent to which the Trump White House has sought to use the authority of the CDC to further its political agenda.
Dr Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said his department had been “sent” an order to justify the deportation of asylum seekers arriving at the US border under title 42, a public health law of 1944 which would have immediately returned them to their countries of origin, even denying them the possibility of seeking asylum. Redfield was the one to sign the order.
President Joe Biden’s administration has tried to revoke this policy, but a court has so far blocked it.
Cetron also told the subcommittee that the Trump administration was reluctant to issue a masking warrant on public transportation even though the private sector had urged it to do so. Cetron said such mask rules could have prevented the deaths of many Americans from COVID-19 in 2020.
The subcommittee also found that administration officials tried to block the release “of at least 19 different CDC science reports that they deemed politically harmful to President Trump.”
Notably, health and human services officials manipulated a CDC publication known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to obscure early signs of COVID-19 transmission.
House investigators found that the Trump administration also used hundreds of millions of dollars in CDC funds for a campaign, led by Caputo, to “defeat despair and inspire hope” around the pandemic ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Caputo denounced the report’s findings in an interview with CNN on Monday, adding that the subcommittee never approached him for an interview.
“I don’t care what they say, or how they say it, if it’s in a political document written before the election by the Democrats, for which I have no respect, or if it’s in other ways,” he told CNN.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (SDC), chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement Monday that the Trump administration “has engaged in an unprecedented campaign of political interference in the federal government’s response to the pandemic.”
“This political priority, disregard for science and refusal to follow the advice of public health experts have damaged the nation’s ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus crisis and put Americans at risk,” Clyburn said.
South Carolina said work still remains to “safeguard scientific integrity and restore the confidence of the American people in our public health institutions.”
The subcommittee has been investigating the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic for over two years. This is his third report to be published.