The House’s COVID-19 response subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), sent Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chief Robert Redfield information requests on Monday. The move comes in response to growing reports that the HHS’ top brass tampered scientific reports on COVID-19, including the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), for President Donald Trump’s political benefit.
Former Trump campaign member and current HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo, along with his scientific adviser, were reportedly involved in the pressure scheme as well.
In a letter to Azar and Redfield first obtained by Politico, the committee listed multiple reports of various senior HHS staffers suppressing or altering the CDC’s scientific data and guidelines to give cover to Trump, who’s been downplaying the pandemic and demanding that states allow businesses and schools to reopen to rescue his chances of reelection in November.
“Blatant political interference in CDC’s reports on the coronavirus outbreak appears to be just one element in the Trump Administration’s all-out strategy to, in the President’s words, ‘play it down,'” the committee told Azar and Redfield, referring to reporter Bob Woodward’s bombshell report on Trump privately admitting to artificially minimizing the pandemic.
“Given the crucial and pressing need for truthful scientific information during this ongoing public health crisis,” the committee wrote, “the Select Subcommittee is seeking to determine the scope of political interference with CDC’s scientific reports and other efforts to combat the pandemic, the impact of this interference on CDC’s mission, whether this interference is continuing, and the steps that Congress may need to take to stop it before more Americans die needlessly.”
The backlash to Woodward’s report follows a string of scandals over the HHS’ handling of the pandemic, which has included ordering the CDC to transfer hospital data directly to the HHS and stifling the agency’s report that asserted hydroxychloroquine, Trump’s miracle drug for COVID-19, was not proven to effectively treat the virus and could be dangerous.
The HHS and CDC did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.