House Democrats expand probe into political interference into CDC during Trump administration
House Democrats on Monday widened their investigation into political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during former President Trump’s administration based on new documents.
Through letters, Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis requested interviews from eight former and current CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials and employees and three former Trump appointees as the probe branches out.
Along with the letters, the subcommittee also released a new email suggesting that senior officials were informed of and planning to discuss how to respond to Trump adviser Paul Alexander’s email requesting an “immediate stop” to all of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR).
The subcommittee, led by Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), has been looking into reports and emails indicating that Trump appointees tried to meddle in the CDC’s coronavirus response, including through efforts to edit and stop scientific reports on COVID-19.
The Trump administration has denied that any political influence affected the reports, traditionally considered to be untouched by politics.
A CDC career employee sent the newly released email from Aug. 9 that indicated senior leadership was available to meet and talk about “next steps” following Alexander’s request to halt publication of the MMWR.
On Monday, House Democrats asked for interviews with former CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat and former CDC official Nancy Messonnier, who held different positions during the pandemic and resigned earlier this year.
Former Trump appointees to the CDC Kyle McGowan, Amanda Campbell and Nina Witkofsky were also requested for interviews.
Schuchat, McGowan, Campbell and Witkofsky were all included on the Aug. 9 email sent directly to then-CDC Director Robert Redfield. The Democrats had previously accused Redfield of ordering staff to delete Alexander’s email based on a CDC official’s comments to congressional investigators.
“As a member of the Office of the Director leadership team and a recipient of this email, you appear likely to have firsthand knowledge of this troubling incident, including who may have participated in relevant conversations, whether Director Redfield may have told CDC staff to delete this email, and what steps may have been taken to effectuate such an instruction,” the letters to Schuchat, McGowan, Campbell and Witkofsky said.
In letters sent to current HHS Director Xavier Becerra and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Democrats also called for six current career staff at the CDC and HHS to be interviewed.
An HHS spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that it will review the request for interviews with current personnel and will “respond directly to the committee.”
The subcommittee Democrats also published an updated list citing 88 alleged times that the Trump administration meddled in public health in 2020, which they said “degraded every major facet of the prior Administration’s public health response.”
“Our public health institutions must never again be compromised by decision-makers more concerned with politics than keeping Americans safe,” the subcommittee wrote in several of the letters. “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 subcommittee has previously accused Alexander, who worked as deputy to former HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, and other political appointees of trying to edit or stop at least 13 CDC reports.
Democrats opened an investigation into alleged political interference after Politico reported in September that Trump appointees had requested to adjust CDC reports. Days later, Caputo took medical leave, and the department said Alexander would “permanently” leave HHS.
The Trump administration has said Alexander’s emails did not affect HHS policy and strategy. In October, then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Alexander had no “authority over determining the final publication of an MMWR.”
Updated: July 27 at 11:56 a.m.