US Secretary of Health Alex Azar and the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield, were summoned by a House panel looking into the Trump administration’s response to the Covid pandemic.
Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, said the panel issued the subpoenas on Monday and instructed the two officials to come up with documents that Clyburn said show political interference that the nation is responding to the pandemic hampered until December 30th.
“The subpoenas were necessary because the Select Subcommittee’s investigation showed that efforts to disrupt the scientific work at the CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known,” Clyburn said in a statement.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately return CNBC’s request for comment.
The subcommittee also released new emails listing political representatives from HHS trying to amend the CDC’s prestigious weekly reports on morbidity and mortality (MMWR). The emails also show candidates at HHS, including then-scientific advisor Paul Alexander and longtime Trump ally Michael Caputo, planning to publicly reprimand at least two published MMWRs.
The subpoenas and new evidence come after the subcommittee released a series of emails last week that gave a powerful glimpse into the scope and extent to which the political officers were trying to admit the political work within HHS and the CDC shape. However, the new steps that the subcommittee took on Monday mean an increase in the intensity of the probe, which began this summer.
“While the government is focusing on vaccination shots, the subcommittee is focusing on cheap shots to make headlines and mislead the American people,” an HHS spokesman said in an email to CNBC, adding that HHS Over 14,000 pages of documents have been submitted over the Internet last five weeks “to the panel.
In a series of emails released by the subcommittee, political representatives discussed a draft MMWR counter-argument that was never made public, claiming that the MMWR, which was concerned with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, “had factual information presented an agenda “and could” prevent the news from getting the proper coverage of a true ‘magic bullet’. ”
At the start of the pandemic, hydroxychloroquine was touted as a highly effective treatment for Covid-19 by President Donald Trump and others. The Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use to treat Covid, but later withdrew from approval, admitting that there was evidence that the drug could actually exacerbate some health conditions in Covid patients.
Dr. Charlotte Kent, editor-in-chief of the CDC’s MMWR, said in an interview with the subcommittee that public refutation of the CDC’s MMWR “could undermine confidence in the CDC and the quality of science in the MMWR”.
An HHS spokesman said Kent’s “testimony shows that there was no political interference in the MMWR process.”
In another example of alleged political interference, HHS officials received a draft summary of an MMWR on a Covid outbreak at a summer camp in Georgia in July. The report detailed how the virus spread rapidly around the camp, but Alexander said it was inconsistent with the White House news.
“I find it incredible that this piece is being written the way it was written at a time when the CDC and its director, Dr. Redfield, are trying to come up with the guide to reopening the school, and the push is to help the schools to open again for sure. ” Alexander wrote in an email. “It just sends the wrong message as written and actually reads like a message from NOT about to be reopened.”
In response, CDC officials agreed to edit a line of the report to remove the mention of schools. But Alexander also wrote a counter-argument to this report and shared the unpublished draft with Caputo on July 27th.
“Hi Michael, as requested, here is the piece to disprove poor CDC MMWR,” he wrote. “I’m not sure where it can be published, but this has very safe information and even for the White House.”
Other emails released by the subcommittee show that Caputo CDC employees are threatening to arrange interviews between CDC officials and the media.
“If you do not obey my instructions, you will be held accountable,” wrote Caputo to a CDC official who was reluctant to reveal the names of the communications personnel responsible.
A CDC official described Caputo’s behavior, according to the subcommittee, as “a pattern of hostile and threatening behavior against … CDC communications staff”.