Doctor Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reportedly instructed his staff to delete an email in which an official within the Trump Administration attempted to seize control over certain COVID-19 data, according to reporting by Politico and The Washington Post.
Redfield admitted that he gave the order during a closed-door hearing with the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisus, which oversees the White House’s pandemic response, earlier this week.
The email, sent in August by Paul Alexander, a former scientific adviser to Michael Caputo, a former spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, was an attempt to water-down language surrounding the risks COVID-19 posed to children as outlined in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.
Alexander and Caputo are no longer employed at HHS.
Alexander reportedly wanted the CDC’s analysis to align more closely with President Donald Trump’s downplaying of the risks of COVID-19, regardless of the science.
In his August 8 email, Alexander requested an “immediate stop on all CDC MMWR reports due to the incompleteness of reporting,” demanding that there was “nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how the CDC wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and ‘complete.'”
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 said in his email.
Charlotte Kent, the MMWR’s editor in chief, explained to congressional investigators on Monday that she was ordered to delete Alexander’s email while she was on vacation, but that someone else had gotten to it first.
“I was instructed to delete the email,” Kent said. “I went to look for it after I had been told to delete it, and it was already gone. I heard from [REDACTED], who, as I understood, heard from Dr. [Michael F.] Iademarco, who heard from Dr. Redfield to delete it.”
Thankfully, the MMWR was not changed, according to one official inside the CDC.
“That did not happen,” the official said. “The MMWR is where the line was drawn.”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), who chairs the committee, said Thursday that Redfield’s actions constitute “deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal and destroy evidence.”
In a letter to Redfield and HHS Secretary Alex Azar that was obtained by Politico, Clyburn expressed “serious concern about what may be deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal and destroy evidence that senior political appointees interfered with career officials’ response to the coronavirus crisis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Clyburn warned that deleting emails may violate federal record keeping laws.
“Federal employees have affirmative obligations to preserve documents, and destruction of federal records is potentially illegal,” Clyburn wrote. “Federal law also provides for up to three years of imprisonment for willful destruction of federal records.”
Redfield has maintained that the MMWR has not been subject to political interference.
“I just want to assure you and the other senators and the American public, that the scientific integrity of the MMWR has not been compromised,” Redfield told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on the 16th of September, shortly after Alexander’s email was first revealed. “It will not be compromised on my watch.”
A spokesperson for HHS, meanwhile, accused Clyburn of misrepresenting the facts.
“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 spokesperson said.
“Moreover,” the unnamed individual continued, “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 HHS working diligently to accommodate the select subcommittee’s many requests, the subcommittee is not operating in good faith.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.