NYT: Emails show HHS officials attempting to silence CDC scientists

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to silence scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emails obtained by The New York Times show.

HHS adviser Paul Alexander, who left the department this week amid a controversy involving the agency’s top communications official Michael Caputo, criticized CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat over an interview she did in June in which she said there is “way too much virus across the country.”

“Her aim is to embarrass the president,” Alexander wrote in a two-page critique of her interview.


Alexander later called Schuchat “duplicitous” in an email to Caputo, who took a 60-day "leave of absence” this week after he made comments attacking career CDC scientists, alleging they were anti-Trump.

He told Caputo to “remind” Schuchat that during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak, thousands of Americans had died “under her work.” He also erroneously stated that “the risk of death in children 0-19 years of age is basically 0 (zero) … PERIOD … she has lied.”

According to other emails obtained by the Times, Caputo sought to discipline a CDC press officer who approved several interviews between a CDC epidemiologist and NPR after the White House moved data collection responsibilities from the CDC to HHS.

“I need to know who did it,” Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide, wrote. After not receiving a response a day later, he said: “I have not received a response to my email for 20 hours. This is unacceptable ... I need this information to properly manage department communications. If you disobey my directions, you will be held accountable.”

One CDC communications staffer asked other senior officials how to respond, saying they were “uncomfortable turning over our employee’s name to Mr. Caputo, given the hostility of the message.”

Caputo repeatedly scolded CDC communications staff, often including CDC Director Robert Redfield, in disputes about media interviews.


“We will discuss this on a teleconference tomorrow. I want your H.R. representative in attendance,” Caputo told one CDC communication staffer who responded to an inquiry to CNN.

An HHS spokesperson told The Hill on Friday that Caputo was trying to "ensure that proper clearance protocols were followed" for media interviews.

Updated at 6:12 p.m.