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Government watchdog to investigate allegations of Trump interference at CDC, FDA

Government watchdog to investigate allegations of Trump interference at CDC, FDA
© Greg Nash

An independent government watchdog will investigate the Trump administration's alleged political interference with public health agencies, Democratic senators announced Monday.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it had accepted a request from Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Overnight Health Care: CDC panel meets on vaccines and heart inflammation | Health officials emphasize vaccine is safe | Judge rules Missouri doesn't have to implement Medicaid expansion Democrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments MORE (Mass.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats block GOP bill to lift mask mandate on public transportation Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Senate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (Wash.) and Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup | Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border | John McAfee dies Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border Harris casts tiebreaking vote to confirm OPM nominee MORE (Mich.) to review whether the scientific integrity and communications policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been violated, and "whether those policies are being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity throughout the agency."

The senators requested the investigation earlier this month, following numerous reports of political meddling in the COVID-19 response at both CDC and FDA. 

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"The CDC and FDA’s independence as scientific agencies is crucial to safeguarding the public health and saving lives. These agencies must be able to develop, review, and disseminate public health data, guidelines, and other information that are based on science, facts, and medical principles—and not the political imperatives and moods of a president and his advisors," the Democrats said in their request. 

Political officials have reportedly pressured agency scientists to revise, remove or delay key CDC recommendations, and have allegedly interfered in the publication of agency research reports viewed as undermining President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE’s message that the pandemic is under control.

The administration also reportedly tried to block the FDA from issuing more stringent guidance for manufacturers of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be ready for distribution in time for Election Day, despite public comments from health officials, drug manufacturers and outside experts.  

Trump has also publicly pressured CDC and FDA officials in the past. The president called for the emergency authorization of the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, despite scant evidence. The agency eventually revoked the authorization. 

In August, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, FDA issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19.

"The GAO's decision to conduct an independent audit is a good first step towards making sure that guidance coming from federal agencies is based on science and facts, not on the Trump Administration's political agenda or the President's whims," the senators said in a statement. 

GAO said the investigation is expected to take about three months.