House panel subpoenas for Azar, Redfield CDC documents

Top Trump administration health officials were subpoenaed by House Democrats on Monday, after an investigation showed "extensive" political interference with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Over a period of four months, as coronavirus cases and deaths rose around the country, Trump Administration appointees attempted to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to the virus," the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said a letter.

The committee's chairman, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), said he is seeking full, unredacted documents from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldHouse Democrats expand probe into political interference into CDC during Trump administration Redfield says he thinks virus 'evolved' in lab to transmit better Ex-CDC director Redfield says he received death threats from fellow scientists over COVID-19 theory MORE, after "HHS has made clear that it will not provide a timely and complete response to the Select Subcommittee’s requests on a voluntary basis."

ADVERTISEMENT

An HHS spokesperson denied there was any political interference, and said the agency has been "extremely cooperative" with the investigation, having provided the subcommittee with 14,000 pages of documents in the past five weeks.

"While the administration is focused on vaccination shots, the Subcommittee is focused on cheap shots to create headlines and mislead the American people," the spokesperson said.

In the letter to Azar and Redfield, Clyburn said political appointees targeted reports that provided evidence of the virus’s “early spread” across the country and “massive spread” this summer, which they believed sent “the wrong message” about the administration’s policies.

The interference campaign was spearheaded by HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and his science adviser Paul Alexander, who for months attempted to block or influence the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Some of the reports that were targeted include: An MMWR regarding hydroxychloroquine prescription trends; a report on cloth face coverings; and efforts to mitigate coronavirus transmission during the April 7 primary election in Milwaukee.

According to documents obtained by the committee, those efforts involved numerous high-level officials at CDC and HHS. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Both Alexander and Caputo have since left their positions after a series of controversies. The committee recently revealed Alexander pushed for a herd immunity strategy to respond to the coronavirus. 

Clyburn said the political appointees also attempted to muzzle career scientists by retaliating against employees who tried to provide truthful information to the public.

Clyburn said the subcommittee needs the documents to understand "who in the Trump administration was responsible for this political pressure campaign, whether it was intended to cripple the nation’s coronavirus response in a misguided effort to achieve herd immunity, and what steps must be taken to end this outrageous conduct and protect American lives."

Updated at 1:05 p.m.