Jim Clyburn (D-SC), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, announced Monday that he is issuing subpoenas to force the Department of Health and Human Services to cooperate with his probe into political interference in the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 work.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, Clyburn demanded the documents he’d been requesting be handed over, unredacted, by December 30.
“The subpoenas were necessary because the Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known,” he wrote.
“Today’s subpoenas are just for show,” wrote committee ranking member Steve Scalise (R-LA) in a statement, adding that “Democrats continue to search for imaginary evidence of improper political influence in the Trump Administration’s whole-of-America pandemic response.”
Clyburn alluded to an HHS official advocating for “herd immunity,” a reference to emails a political appointee and top deputy to Michael Caputo, the longtime Trump hype man and HHS official, sent to top HHS and CDC officials, pushing them to look into letting young people get widely infected. Clyburn said that the subpoenas were necessary to know “who in the Trump Administration was responsible for this political pressure campaign.”
Caputo and his deputy, Paul Alexander, emerge as the primary villains in Clyburn’s summary of the alleged misdeeds his subcommittee has uncovered so far.
Clyburn details episodes of Alexander seeking to suppress or downplay information about the severity of the pandemic in CDC reports, sometimes saying outright that the information would lead to bad headlines for the administration.
He cites interactions in which Caputo allegedly scolded or sought to punish CDC scientists for being truthful in interviews with media outlets.
In his letter, Clyburn doesn’t let the Trump administration off the hook for the actions of the two, both of whom were political appointees. They left in September after initial reports of their behavior became public.
“Although HHS and CDC officials have recently tried to distance themselves from Mr. Caputo and Dr. Alexander, emails show Trump Administration officials were aware of their conduct for months but took no action until the press became aware of this behavior and the Select Subcommittee launched an investigation,” Clyburn wrote.
An HHS spokesperson told TPM last week that Alexander’s ideas “did not shape department strategy” and painted him as a temporary appointee who’s long gone by this point.
Clyburn also detailed HHS’ refusal to cooperate so far, citing withheld documents and interviews abruptly cancelled after a CDC official allegedly testified that Redfield had directed her to delete an email showing Alexander’s political interference.
“HHS and CDC have indicated their unwillingness to voluntarily cooperate with the Select Subcommittee’s investigation,” Clyburn wrote, adding later that if the agencies continue to shortchange him on his requests, “additional subpoenas may be necessary.”
Read the letter here: