By Veronica Stracqualursi and Kristen Holmes, CNN
A Democratic-led House select committee says it has uncovered evidence of political interference by the Trump administration into the federal government’s coronavirus response last year, including attempts to alter or block data reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailing the dire effects of the virus.
A new document released Tuesday details the pressure that career officials faced from a Trump administration political appointee to change portions of the CDC’s crucial Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), which laid out Covid deaths, hospitalizations and infections during the pandemic.
The new document also corroborates testimony given last year from a career CDC official who said she was ordered to destroy evidence of the request, according to the committee.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is now requesting interviews with nearly a dozen former Trump political appointees and current officials, sending letters Tuesday to the individuals and the CDC and US Department of Health and Human Services.
Among those the committee had previously asked to interview is HHS senior adviser Paul Alexander, a Trump political appointee who had demanded in an August 8, 2020, email that the CDC “put an immediate stop” to the MMWR series or adjust two reports on Covid infections at a Georgia overnight camp and another on children hospitalized from Covid-19. Alexander also accused the CDC of “writing hit pieces” on the Trump administration, according to the August 2020 email.
The panel had previously released internal emails that showed Alexander boasting about influencing the CDC scientific reports and repeatedly urging his colleagues at HHS and CDC to pursue a so-called herd immunity strategy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The CDC’s Dr. Christine Casey, who was filling in as editor-in-chief for the MMWRs, wrote to then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and others the next morning on how to “discuss next steps” regarding Alexander’s email, according to an email the subcommittee released Tuesday.
In December, Dr. Charlotte Kent, the editor in chief of the MMWR series, had told subcommittee staff that she was ordered to delete the email — an instruction she understood came from Redfield.
Redfield said in a statement at the time that he had instructed the CDC to ignore Alexander’s comments.
Former CDC political appointees Kyle McGowan, Amanda Campbell and Nina Witkofsky, a senior adviser and former CDC acting-chief of staff, were among the recipients on the August 9 email.
McGowan and Campbell had resigned in August from their roles as CDC chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. After their departure, the two spoke publicly about the political meddling they witnessed during their time with the CDC.
The subcommittee requested interviews and documents from 11 current and former officials by late August and early September.
CNN has reached out to the individuals the panel requested interviews from, the HHS, and the CDC for comment.
An HHS spokesperson told CNN that it “will review the request and respond directly to the committee.”
The committee is also seeking more information on the Trump administration’s consideration of a herd immunity strategy, its data collection practices, and any “adverse” employment actions against federal officials.
“Our public health institutions must never be compromised again by decision makers more concerned with politics than keeping Americans safe,” the committee chair, Rep. James Clyburn, and other Democratic members of the committee said in a statement. “It is therefore imperative that the Select Subcommittee’s investigations into the prior Administration’s response to the pandemic provide full accountings of what occurred.”
The committee also updated a roundup of nearly 90 instances based on media reports and its investigation in which it claims Trump administration officials “injected politics into public health decisions” from February to December 2020.
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