House Democrats sent out two letters to members of the Biden administration Monday, alerting them to new evidence of the scope of the Trump administration’s political interference in scientific-based efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and asking for documents.
The House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has been pursuing the investigation for months, though the letters indicate that the fact-finding mission did not come to an end with the expiration of President Donald Trump’s term.
In the letters sent to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran, subcommittee Chairman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) highlighted excerpts from communications sent by former HHS senior advisor Paul Alexander that Clyburn said show political interference.
“Recently obtained evidence shows that political appointees were involved in the decision to change CDC’s guidance, and that the Trump Administration changed the guidance for the explicit purpose of reducing testing and allowing the virus to spread while quickly reopening the economy,” Clyburn wrote. “In an August 27, 2020, email recently obtained by the Select Subcommittee, Dr. Alexander wrote that the new guidance followed ‘extensive debate amongst the White House Task Force members.'”
Clyburn wrote that the subcommittee is also seeking to understand the extent to which White House officials were pushing for a herd immunity strategy, in which enough people get sickened by the disease and recover to provide an immunity buffer.
Previous documents released by the subcommittee show that Alexander had floated the idea of pursuing such a strategy, urging in emails that officials let “infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged [people]” get infected.
Alexander was a top deputy to Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, the longtime Trump hype man and HHS official, and both men left the department in mid-September.
A spokesperson for the Trump administration HHS previously told TPM that Alexander’s emails “absolutely did not shape department strategy,” and minimized his role, describing him as a temporary advisor.
A revelation from the subcommittee in December appeared to show that the higher-ups tried to cover their tracks where Alexander was involved.
A CDC employee testified to the subcommittee that CDC Director Robert Redfield ordered that a previously-reported email Alexander wrote be deleted. In the email shared by the subcommittee, Alexander attacked a report on COVID-19 spread among children as intentionally crafted to be damaging to the administration.
That same employee, Dr. Charlotte Kent, editor-in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also allegedly testified that Redfield ordered a report about COVID-19 spread at a summer camp be delayed until after he testified before Congress that schools should be reopened.
Redfield has been replaced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky as head of the CDC. Clyburn had issued subpoenas to Redfield and former HHS Secretary Alex Azar in December.
In his letters, Clyburn asked Klain and Cochran to help him obtain documents relevant to the investigation. Neither the White House nor HHS immediately returned TPM’s request for comment.
“The Biden-Harris Administration’s approach follows the recommendations that frontline workers, public health experts, medical professionals, and community leaders have shared with the Select Subcommittee,” Clyburn wrote. “This approach marks an urgently needed departure from the Trump Administration, which refused to acknowledge the danger posed by the virus, warn the American people of the threat, advise on appropriate precautions, and mobilize a coordinated national response.”
Read the letter here: