A former Trump administration appointee privately boasted last year about influencing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s scientific reports about Covid-19 and attacked the agency’s guidance while advocating for a herd immunity strategy, according to a House select committee investigating the federal government’s Covid-19 response.
The new documents show the extent that Trump appointees went to push to change language of weekly science reports so as not to undermine then-President Donald Trump’s political message.
Last year, former Health and Human Services senior adviser Paul Alexander wrote an email describing two examples of the CDC adjusting its writing based on his input, according to new documents obtained by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
“Small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!” Alexander wrote in a September 9, 2020, email, of the CDC cutting a reference to potential virus outbreaks in schools in a report on a Georgia summer camp Covid-19 outbreak. Alexander claimed the reference was “meant to extrapolate this camp to schools to hit the administration on safe school re-open.”
CNN has reached out to Alexander for comment.
In a letter dated Friday to Alexander, the select committee chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) wrote that “this investigation has also revealed that you played a role in the Trump Administration’s efforts to suppress scientific information you felt could be ‘use[d] against the president’ and advocated for policies that would allow the virus to spread widely among many Americans, asserting ‘we want them infected.’”
On August 8, 2020, Alexander sent an email to then-CDC Director Robert Redfield and other officials demanding that the agency include new language in a “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” on the Covid-19 risks to children or “pull it down and stop all reports immediately.”
“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration and meant at this time to impact school re-openings and they then send it to the media knowing it is deceiving. I ask it be stopped now!” he wrote, adding, “Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and ‘complete.’”
Alex Azar, Trump’s HHS secretary at the time, told the select committee in an October hearing that Alexander did not have authority over the final publication of a CDC “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”
On Friday, Clyburn wrote to Alexander, saying, “recently obtained documents suggest your efforts to influence CDC’s scientific reports were successful.”
Clyburn pointed to an August email obtained by the panel in which Alexander wrote to the CDC’s former acting chief of staff, noting “last 2 MMWR reports have been more positive than usual and I find encouraging.”
“So have you seen this shift? Maybe you are having a huge impact and this is tremendous. Well done!” Alexander’s email to the CDC acting chief of staff reads.
Another email shows a request from Alexander to Dr. Scott Atlas, who was on Trump’s White House coronavirus task force, to draft an op-ed to push back against children wearing masks and school closures.
The committee had previously released internal emails late last year that showed Alexander repeatedly urging his colleagues at HHS and CDC to pursue a herd immunity strategy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
An HHS spokesperson told CNN at the time that Alexander’s emails “absolutely did not shape department strategy” and that “herd immunity is not the policy of the United States COVID-19 response.”
Herd immunity would mean that a high number people nationwide would have to get sick with Covid-19 in order to build up a natural immunity across communities. As the virus spreads and sickens people, many could die in the process.
In his letter Friday, Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, also requested that Alexander conduct a transcribed interview with the subcommittee on April 30.
This story has been updated with additional information.
Kristin Wilson, Daniella Diaz and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.