The House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis is requesting an interview with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield after the panel describes concerns in a new letter over potential efforts by the Trump administration to “conceal and destroy evidence” of interference from political appointees in the work of career officials dealing with pandemic response.
The letter, sent to Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar by Democratic subcommittee chairman Jim Clyburn, states that a career CDC official told the panel she was ordered to delete an email – an instruction she understood came from Redfield – where an HHS appointee “demanded that CDC alter or rescind truthful scientific reports he believed were damaging to President Trump.”
According to the letter, Dr. Charlotte Kent, chief of the scientific publications branch and editor-in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report at CDC, told subcommittee staff earlier this week that she was told to delete an email sent on August 8 by Health and Human Services senior adviser Dr. Paul Alexander.
The letter states that the panel was not given the email by the department despite its request, but notes that an excerpt was published in the media. It includes an excerpt in which Alexander is critical of the CDC, saying, according to the letter, “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].”
Redfield said in a statement following the release of the subcommittee’s letter, “Regarding the email in question, I instructed CDC staff to ignore Dr. Alexander’s comments.”
“As I testified before Congress, I am fully committed to maintaining the independence of the MMWR, and I stand by that statement,” he said referring to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
An HHS spokesperson pushed back on the panel’s assertions and accused the subcommittee of “not operating in good faith.”
In a statement to CNN, the spokesperson said, “The Subcommittee’s characterization of the conversation with Dr. Kent is irresponsible. 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 MMWR process.” The statement added, “Despite HHS working diligently to accommodate the Select Subcommittee’s many requests, the Subcommittee is not operating in good faith.”
Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, writes in the letter, “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.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.