CDC director Robert Redfield ordered the deletion of an email showing political interference in COVID-19 guidance deemed damaging to President Donald Trump, according to Jim Clyburn (D-GA), head of the House Subcommittee on Coronavirus.
In a new letter, Clyburn charges that Redfield directed Dr. Charlotte Kent, editor-in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, to delete a previously reported email in which Dr. Paul Alexander, senior adviser to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, attacks a report on COVID-19 spread among children as designed to hurt the administration.
“CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school reopening,” Alexander wrote in the now-deleted email, sent in August. “Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear. . . . This is designed to hurt this Presidnet [sic] for their reasons which I am not interested in.”
Alexander demanded that more information be added to the report or that staff “pull it down and stop all reports immediately.”
Politico reported on Alexander’s email in a September story about political interference at the CDC.
Kent testified to the committee on Monday that she was on vacation in early August when the command from Redfield came down, but that the email had already been deleted by the time she was looking for it.
She added that she considered the request to delete the email “very unusual,” as the email is the kind that usually would be preserved as government record.
“The Subcommittee’s characterization of the conversation with Dr. Kent is irresponsible,” a spokesperson for HHS told TPM. “We urge the Subcommittee to release the transcript in full which will show that during her testimony Dr. Kent repeatedly said there was no political interference in the MMWR process.”
Clyburn alleged that the deletion request is just one link in a chain of political interference by Redfield and HHS in the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance.
Kent also testified that the CDC delayed publishing a report on COVID-19 spread at a Georgia summer camp until after Redfield’s scheduled testimony to the subcommittee in July, during which he advocated that schools open for face-to-face learning in the fall.
Redfield and HHS allegedly requested the delay because “the timing would be better.”
During his testimony, Redfield did not discuss the report, which had initially been slated to be released two days before. The CDC published the report 15 minutes after the hearing ended.
Clyburn wrote that after Kent’s interview, part of long withheld cooperation from the administration that the subcommittee had sought since the existence of Alexander’s email was reported, the department abruptly cancelled the rest of the planned interviews.
“However, hours after Dr. Kent’s interview in which she revealed she was instructed to delete a key document, your staff wrote to Select Subcommittee staff that the Department is ‘cancelling the interviews that were scheduled for this week,’ baselessly attacking the Select Subcommittee staff’s integrity as a pretextual justification for doing so,” Clyburn wrote.
“During the interview referenced in the letter, a staff member on the Subcommittee chose to violate basic common practices of attorney-client privilege that protect the interests of the Department but more importantly the witness,” the HHS spokesperson told TPM.
Clyburn ended his letter demanding an interview with Redfield, plus that the originally scheduled interviews with CDC officials be reinstated. He also requested a tranche of documents related to the specific incidents Kent described, in addition to any others related to the department’s obstruction of the subcommittee’s attempts to investigate.
“I am deeply concerned that the Trump Administration’s political meddling with the nation’s coronavirus response has put American lives at greater risk, and that Administration officials may have taken steps to conceal and destroy evidence of this dangerous conduct,” Clyburn wrote.
Read Clyburn’s letter here: