The president’s political aides have successfully demanded to review and, in some cases, modify weekly Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on the coronavirus to better align scientific reports with Trump’s upbeat messages, Politico reported.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who became spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services this spring, and his team have led the effort to review the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, the news outlet reported, citing three sources familiar with the situation and email exchanges. The reports are written by scientists to update the public health community on the coronavirus’ spread.
While CDC health professionals have resisted the most sweeping changes, they have increasingly allowed reviews of the reports, and in some cases edits and delays. Emails obtained by Politico show the political communications team at HHS concerned the CDC was “writing hit pieces on the administration” and scientists were trying to “hurt the President.”
The CDC did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment from Fox News.
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Caputo and aides have called to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated coronavirus’ risk to children and undermined Trump’s push to reopen schools.
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
They tried to halt the release of some CDC reports altogether and successfully delayed a report on hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted by Trump to treat COVID-19 despite questionable evidence.
One political appointee, Paul Alexander, demanded CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield allow him to edit reports and wanted “an immediate” stop in the meantime.
“The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous. It’s lunacy,” Alexander, Caputo’s scientific adviser, told Redfield and other officials in an email obtained by Politico. “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.'”
Caputo responded to Fox News’ request for comment on the Politico report by saying: “It’s accurate.”
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In a statement to Politico, Caputo touted Alexander’s qualifications as “an Oxford-educated epidemiologist.” The HHS team was appropriately reviewing the CDC’s reports and fighting the “deep state,” he said.
“Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists. Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers,” Caputo said in a statement.
“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic—not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” Caputo added.
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the press briefing room at the White House, Feb. 29, in Washington as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Vice President Mike Pence, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams listen. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The reporting sent new shockwaves throughout Democratic and scientific circles with some calling for Caputo’s ouster.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Saturday that “political appointees trying to interfere in the COVID-19 response and suppress public health officials should be removed from their posts. Immediately.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., blasted the “doctoring of CDC reports” on the virus and said the GOP “is unfit to govern and a threat to your life.”
HHS released a new statement Saturday that didn’t address the reporting on interfering with CDC reports, but praised Trump’s openmindedness to science.
“As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, I have briefed President Trump alongside the nation’s top doctors and I have insisted that he have direct access to these doctors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement to Fox News. “He has always been receptive to the data and science presented by me and other members of the task force. President Trump’s science-based decision making has saved lives.”
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Meanwhile, former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign pounced on the new report as further evidence the Trump administration will try to downplay the pandemic for political reasons. It also cited revelations from Bob Woodward’s new book that Trump knew how deadly the virus was in February, but did not stress its seriousness to the public at the time.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gives the thumbs up as he arrives to pose for photographs with union leaders outside the AFL-CIO headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa., Sept. 7. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
“When Donald Trump told Bob Woodward that he wanted to downplay the virus, this is the exact kind of repugnant betrayal that he meant,” Biden’s Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “Instead of telling us the truth about the deadly seriousness of COVID-19, this report is further proof that the Trump Administration has been systematically putting political optics ahead of the safety of the American people.”
But the Trump campaign said the country would have been worse off if Biden were president at the outset of the pandemic and touted Trump’s decision to announce travel restrictions from China as early as Jan. 31.
“President Trump has always listened to the scientists and medical professionals, like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield, in crafting his unprecedented response to the coronavirus,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Fox News.
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He added: “The doctors have publicly stated many times that the President listens to their advice and that they have not felt political pressure. The Administration took action in January while Democrats were still pursuing their sham impeachment, first with CDC travel alerts and screenings at major U.S. airports, and then with the President’s travel restrictions on China, which saved thousands of American lives.”