Skip to content
Emails reveal new details of Trump’s White House interference in CDC Covid planning

The emails and transcripts detail how, in early 2020, Trump and his White House allies blocked media briefings and talks with CDC officials, attempting to change public safety guidelines normally approved by the agency and called on agency officials to destroy evidence that could be interpreted as political interference.

The documents further highlight how those Trump appointees attempted to undermine the work of scientists and career CDC staff to control administration messages about the spread of the virus and the dangers of transmission and infection.

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.

Several former senior Trump officials, including Deborah Birx, the former White House Covid-19 task force coordinator, answered the committee’s questions. Former director of the National Center for Vaccination and Lung Disease, Nancy Messonnier, and former CDC senior deputy director, Anne Schuchat, also appeared for questioning. Both resigned their CDC positions in the spring.

Documents released by the committee – and corresponding interviews with witnesses – set a timeline for how Trump’s White House began to downplay the dangers posed by Covid-19. Several former senior Trump officials who worked on the administration’s response have publicly stated after the fact that they do not want to panic the American public.

But scientists at the CDC, well aware that the virus was transmitted at a high rate and could easily infect, stepped in early to speak directly to the American people in an attempt to warn the public of what was to come.

At a press conference in February 2020, Messonnier told reporters she expected the community to spill over into the United States and that the disruption to daily life could be “serious.” This was one of the first direct assessments from a senior CDC official of what was in store for the United States.

The warning frustrated Trump, according to documents released by the Congressional committee on Friday.

“I thought my remarks were correct based on the information we had at the time,” Messonnier told the committee during his interview. “I heard the president was not happy with the telebriefing.”

Following Messonnier’s comments during the briefing on February 25, the management of the Ministry of Health and Social Services called another press conference.

“The impression that was given to me was that the reaction to the morning briefing was quite volatile and having another briefing – you know, later on I think I felt like having another briefing could have – you know, there was nothing new to report, but get some extra voices to talk about this situation, ”Schuchat told the committee during his testimony.

From that point on, the White House took the lead in the federal response and controlled all communications and messages about the virus, refusing requests from the CDC to hold its own briefings.

“We would submit a request to others to do a briefing and it was turned down, and then – or we didn’t get approval to be able to do one,” Schuchat said, referring to the specific requests she received. media for an interview. Schuchat said the White House also denied several telebriefings from the agency in the spring of 2020 that would have allowed CDC scientists to explain emerging evidence on how the virus moved and infected different populations.

As CDC scientists continued to try to disseminate their field reports on Covid-19, White House officials attempted to transform the messages and sometimes downplay the importance of the virus spread.

POLITICO was the first to report in 2020 that communications officials from the Department of Health and Human Services were seeking changes to the CDC’s weekly reports on Covid-19 to more closely align summaries with talking points Of the president.

Christine Casey, one of the leaders of the CDC team that publishes weekly science reports, also known as the weekly morbidity and mortality reports, told the House committee that at one point given in April 2020, she had received instructions to delete an email reflecting political interference.

Casey said Paul Alexander, the former acting senior political adviser to the HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, asked him to stop publishing the weekly reports, implying his team was trying to make Trump look bad in public.

After conversations with CDC leaders, including then-director Robert Redfield, Michael Iademarco, one of the CDC leaders overseeing epidemiology and laboratory services, asked Casey to remove th -mail.

“I believe he said that the director [Redfield] said to delete the email and anyone else who had received it, you know, should do the same, ”Casey said in her testimony.

Schuchat told the committee that interference with the CDC’s scientific process went even further and affected the agency’s public health guidelines since the start of the pandemic.

In one case, Schuchat said there was a directive in March 2020 at the White House to suspend the introduction of certain people from countries with a communicable disease. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Global Migration and Quarantine Division, refused to sign the order.

“His point of view was that the facts on the ground did not require it for public health reasons and that the decision was not made on the basis of quarantine criteria. He may have been initiated for other purposes, ”said Schuchat. “I don’t think he was comfortable using his authority to do it because it didn’t fit his scrutiny of the criteria.”

Redfield ultimately signed the order despite Cetron’s opposition.

On several occasions, Schuchat has said that Alexander attempted to change the wording of the MMWR, adding that it took “active efforts” on the part of CDC career staff to preserve the integrity of scientific reports.

“There is a long-standing practice that MMWRs are scientific products of the CDC and that there is a firewall between editorial production and political levels,” Schuchat said.

The CDC appeared to take steps to isolate the agency from comments from other administrative offices regarding its work.

In an April 2020 email released by the committee on Friday, then-Bureau of Management and Budget director Russell Vought emailed Redfield, raising questions about why the CDC did not plan to send public health advice on meat packing plants through the White House. At the time, the White House disagreed with the CDC over what steps meat-packing plants should take to protect workers from contracting Covid-19. The virus had infected several factories in the Midwest, causing workflow disruptions.

“The Bob-Your (Kyle McGowan) team says they will not be sending meat packing advice through the normal OIRA channel in order to serve the task force. We have to make sure this happens normally to run our customs clearance process, ”Vought wrote. At the request of senior White House officials, including Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, Redfield softened the language of the guidelines.

In another similar scenario, scientists at the CDC rebuffed comments received on advice for faith groups – institutions that were seeing the number of cases increase due to their large indoor gatherings. Jennie Lichter, then deputy director of the White House Home Policy Council, wrote that it was “unacceptable” that the CDC “did not accept virtually any of the comments or changes submitted by me, the DOJ or anyone else on this section. very sensitive, “according to documents released by the committee on Friday.

In response, Joe Grogan, former director of the US Home Policy Council and Trump aide, wrote: “I’m not sure these should come back to the CDC. I think we should make the changes and then a small group of directors finalize.

Later that summer, in August, the CDC was renewing its testing guidelines for the new school year. Cases were increasing across the country, particularly in the Southwest and West. Scientists at the CDC agreed that the country should maintain strict testing guidelines to detect community transmission early in order to ward off future outbreaks.

Birx, then coordinator of the White House Covid-19 task force, told the House committee in her testimony that Atlas, a radiologist and White House adviser who frequently disagreed with the CDC, attempted to modify agency testing guidelines.

He urged the agency to rewrite its guidelines to emphasize that only symptomatic people should get tested. His argument, at the time, was that the United States only needed to worry about people who had Covid-19 and had symptoms like fever and cough, because these are the people who could more easily spread. the virus. But administration scientists argued that asymptomatic individuals could still spread Covid-19 even if they did not show symptoms and it was important to track both categories.

The wording of the testing guidelines was eventually changed to say, “You don’t necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable person or your health care provider or public health officials. state or local recommend that you do one. “

“This document resulted in less testing and less aggressive testing for those without any symptoms which I believed was the main reason for the early spread of the community,” Birx said, adding that the change in guidelines does not was not based on science.

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.