REPORT: HHS Officials Messed With CDC Reporting To Align It With Trump’s Rosy COVID Message

Michael R. Caputo, a Republican political strategist and media consultant, enjoys a cup of coffee as he prepares for his testimony before the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of ... Michael R. Caputo, a Republican political strategist and media consultant, enjoys a cup of coffee as he prepares for his testimony before the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, at the home of a long-time friend in McLean, Virginia on Friday, July 14, 2017. Credit: Ron Sachs / CNP - NO WIRE SERVICE - Photo by: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images MORE LESS
September 12, 2020 1:30 p.m.

Communications aides for the Health Department have sought to interfere and make changes to the CDC’s weekly scientific reports on the coronavirus pandemic that are used to communicate risks and new findings about the novel virus to the public and health professionals.

Politico reports that officials have called the move an intimidation tactic as politically-appointed aides make efforts to dilute the CDC’s reporting to health professionals. 

According to three sources and emails obtained by Politico, communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials complained that the agency’s reports would undercut President Donald Trump’s rosy rhetoric about the pandemic.

While fighting back in some instances, CDC officials have increasingly relented to political officials who have demanded that they be able to review the reports at at times compromise the wording, three people familiar with the exchanges told Politico.

Pressure on the CDC to align the its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) reports with Trump’s statements appear to follow the installation of HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo in April. Caputo is a former Trump campaign offocial with no scientific background — yet he has pushed for the CDC’s reporting to reflect Trump’s claims that the pandemic is subsiding and the effects of the virus have been trumped up by his opposition.

In the past, MMWR reports which function to inform health professionals and the general public about COVID-19, were published without political interference. But Caputo’s team has recently made efforts to revise previously-published reports that they say wrongly magnified the risks of coronavirus, health department officials told Politico.

Caputo’s team also delayed for about one month, a report that discussed how doctors prescribed hydroxychloroquine, Politico found. 

In August, a Caputo aide tore into CDC scientists in a widely-circulated email within the department saying that the scientists were deliberately using the reports to “hurt the President.”

“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” Paul Alexander a senior adviser to Caputo wrote, calling on CDC director Robert Redfield to adjust two already published reports that Alexander claimed overstated the risks of coronavirus to children and undermined Trump’s plan to reopen schools.

Alexander also called on Redfield demanding an “immediate stop” to all future MMWR reports until the agency amended its publication process saying the reports should first be reviewed in their entirety by “someone outside of CDC like myself.”

“We cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous.” Alexander told Redfield and other officials, calling it “lunacy.” 

Per Politico, Caputo also attested that HHS was reviewing the CDC’s reports to undercut “deep state motives.”

“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic—not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” Caputo said.

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