The Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) instructed the editor-in-chief of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) to delete an email showing that a Donald Trump-appointed official sought to control pandemic-related information to protect the president, a career CDC official told congressional investigators earlier this week.
Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) detailed the allegations of Dr. Charlotte Kent, head of the CDC’s Scientific Publications Branch, in a Thursday letter to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“This week, a career CDC official stated in a transcribed interview with Select Subcommittee staff that she was instructed to delete an email in which a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appointee demanded that CDC alter or rescind truthful scientific reports he believed were damaging to President Trump,” Clyburn wrote. “She also stated that she understood the instruction to delete the email came from CDC Director Robert Redfield.”
The email in question, sent by HHS Senior Advisor Dr. Paul Alexander, allegedly demanded that the CDC delete portions of a previously published scientific report on coronavirus risks for children, telling Dr. Kent to “pull it down and stop all reports immediately.”
“[The] CDC tried to report as if once kids get together , there will be spread and this will impact school reopening . … Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear. … This is designed to hurt this Presidnet [sic] for their reasons which I am not interested in,” Alexander wrote in an email first reported by Politico in September.
Clyburn, whose committee is investigating political interference in the CDC’s response to the pandemic, also said that following Dr. Kent’s “troubling testimony,” the Trump administration abruptly canceled four additional interviews the panel had scheduled with other CDC employees—adding to a pattern of obstruction on behalf of HHS.
“I am deeply concerned that the Trump Administration’s political meddling with the nation’s coronavirus response has put American lives at greater risk, and that Administration officials may have taken steps to conceal and destroy evidence of this dangerous conduct,” Clyburn wrote. “It is critical that the Department end its stonewalling, preserve or recover all responsive documents , and provide the documents and witnesses that the Select Subcommittee needs to investigate this conduct and help protect American lives during this deadly pandemic.”
HHS responded to Clyburn’s letter by claiming the committee had mischaracterized Dr. Kent’s testimony.
“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 M.M.W.R. process,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “Moreover, during the interview referenced in the letter, a staff member on the Subcommittee chose to violate basic common practices of attorney-client privilege that protect the interests of the Department but, more importantly, the witness. Despite H.H.S. working diligently to accommodate the Select Subcommittee’s many requests, the Subcommittee is not operating in good faith.”
HHS’s statement did not address whether Dr. Redfield had, in fact, directed Dr. Kent to delete the email.
Clyburn said the committee is now seeking an interview with Dr. Redfield and plans to subpoena the Trump administration if HHS does not provide documents requested by the committee before the Dec. 15 deadline.
Read the full letter below:
[image via ABC News screengrab]
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