CDC official tells Congress she was told to delete email seeking to alter scientific report

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official told Congress this week that she was instructed to delete an email from a Trump administration official seeking to alter a scientific report on the risk of coronavirus to children. 

Charlotte Kent, the CDC official in charge of widely respected scientific reports from the agency, told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in a transcribed interview on Monday that she was instructed to delete an Aug. 8 email from Paul Alexander, at the time scientific adviser to Michael Caputo, assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seeking to interfere in a scientific report, according to excerpts of the interview released by the subcommittee.

“I was instructed to delete the email,” Kent told the subcommittee, adding that she considered the request “very unusual.”

She said she was told by other officials that the instruction came from CDC Director Robert Redfield, though she did not speak directly to Redfield, and she said when she went to delete the email it was already gone. She said she did not know who deleted it.

“I would never tell somebody to delete an email,” Redfield said Thursday when asked about the report at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “I instructed CDC to ignore Dr. Alexander’s comments and they didn’t need to reply to his email.”
“And as I testified before Congress, I’ve always been fully committed to maintaining the integrity of the MMWR,” he added, referring to the scientific CDC reports in question, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. 

The email in question from Alexander, which was previously reported, sought to insert new language in a CDC report on coronavirus risks to children, at a time when President Trump was urging schools to reopen. Alexander accused the CDC of seeking to hurt Trump.

Alexander, as well as Caputo, have since left their positions after a series of controversies.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), noted in a letter to HHS on Thursday that federal law requires officials to preserve records.

“I write today to express my serious concern about what may be deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal and destroy evidence that senior political appointees interfered with career officials’ response to the coronavirus crisis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Clyburn wrote in the letter to Redfield and HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

In response, an HHS spokesperson said the subcommittee was mischaracterizing the interview with Kent and is “not operating in good faith” despite departmental efforts to comply with the investigation.

“The Subcommittee’s characterization of the conversation with Dr. Kent is irresponsible,” the spokesperson said. “We urge the Subcommittee to release the transcript in full which will show that during her testimony Dr. Kent repeatedly said there was no political interference in the MMWR process.”

Redfield previously pushed back on concern about political interference with the scientific reports, known as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR).

“At no time has the scientific integrity of the MMWR been compromised and I can say that under my watch it will not be compromised,” Redfield told a Senate committee in September.

The subcommittee also said that Kent told them that the CDC delayed the release of a report on a coronavirus outbreak at a Georgia summer camp until after Redfield’s testimony before Congress on July 31, during which he urged schools to reopen.

Clyburn accused the administration of “stonewalling” his investigation into political interference in the coronavirus response, and threatened to issue subpoenas if officials do not provide requested documents by Dec. 15.

Updated: 4 p.m.

Tags CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Charlotte Kent Donald Trump

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