Trump administration is helping “apply control over CDC communications and blocked public health officials from providing accurate information about the coronavirus to the American people,” said the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, in a report released Monday. .
In the third comprehensive survey of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic officials spoke to several senior officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including former director Dr. Robert Redfield, who said Trump officials blocked the department from passing information to Americans early in the pandemic. The subcommittee also spoke with senior officials from the United States Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration.
The subcommittee’s 91-page report used interviews with officials to show that former President Donald Trump and his team “installed political agents who tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic.”
In one case, a senior CDC communications officer, Kate Galatas, told the subcommittee Michael Caputo, a close Trump ally who was appointed assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, used “bullying behavior” that officials from the CDC “feeling threatened”.
Caputo disputed the findings in the report in an interview with CNN.
“That’s false. Donald Trump hired me to convey the gravity of the pandemic, that’s what I was hired to do, I led a team of 400 people to do that,” Caputo said in an interview with CNN.
“(Galatas) was a problem associate I once wrote to and I can understand why she didn’t appreciate my management style because it was very difficult to manage,” Caputo added of the CDC communications officer’s comments.
The report also includes allegations made by Dr. Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, who claims he “wasn’t really asked back to do telebriefings” after Caputo was dissatisfied with Butler’s statements, which he reportedly found “too alarming.”
Caputo also disputed this account in the report.
“I didn’t tell anyone they were too alarming,” he said. “I attended extremely stressful daily briefings where we talked about the deaths.”
Caputo criticized the report, saying he was never interviewed by the House subcommittee, but made himself available.
“I don’t care what they say, or how they say it, whether it’s in a political document written before the election by the Democrats that I have no respect for, or whether it’s in any other way. “, he said.
Redfield also told the committee during his interview that government officials have “compromised” the CDC’s Covid-19 guidelines on a number of occasions. The subcommittee’s report said Redfield told them the process was “complicated” to edit these documents and said the process gave him “PTSD”. Another official Dr. Christine Casey, editor of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) series, told the committee that the Trump administration trial was “highly unusual.”
The committee also wrote in its investigation that Trump administration officials in HHS attempted to influence the CDC’s scientific reports on the Covid-19 pandemic from May to mid-September 2020, edit the content, or prevent the publication of at least 19 different reports that they believed could be harmful to Trump.
The report also noted that HHS’s political appointees had succeeded in “modifying or delaying the publication of at least five scientific reports, and pressuring the CDC to change the MMWR’s editorial process.”
The subcommittee noted that the concerned reports were primarily published in the MMWR, the CDC’s flagship publication, but HHS officials also interfered with at least one Health Alert Network advisory that provides urgent public health information to clinicians.
“HHS officials have also taken unprecedented steps to involve political nominations in the publishing process and to refute CDC’s scientific reports, including drafting opinions and other public messages designed to directly counter the CDC’s findings,” he said. the report.
In another case early in the pandemic, CDC officials told the committee they believed Trump officials abused CDC’s Title 42 authority to close the border. dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division for global migration and quarantine, told the commission that the document to close the border was “not prepared by me or my team”, but “handed over to us”.
Cetron added that he “excused” himself for working on the document. It is signed by Redfield.
“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that the previous administration engaged in an unprecedented campaign of political interference in the federal government’s pandemic response, undermining public health in favor of the former president’s political goals,” Clyburn said in a statement. a statement. “As today’s report shows, President Trump and his top officials have repeatedly attacked CDC scientists, compromised the agency’s public health guidelines, and suppressed scientific reports in an effort to downplay the severity of the coronavirus.”
He added: “This prioritization of politics, disregard for science and refusal to follow the advice of public health experts damaged the nation’s ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus crisis and put Americans at risk. As we continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis, we must also continue to work to safeguard scientific integrity and restore the American people’s trust in our public health institutions.”
The subcommittee’s report concluded that “the Trump administration’s interference in CDC’s efforts to respond to the pandemic and attacks on CDC scientists reflected a wider pattern of hostility that ultimately affected a wide swath of public health officials and agencies. ”
The report is the third in a series from the select subcommittee, the first of which detailed how the Trump administration has worked to undermine the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic by blocking officials from speaking publicly and the second report claimed how the Trump administration launched a “crusade” against the US Food and Drug Administration.