Washington (AFP) – Former US president Donald Trump’s administration prevented health officials from providing accurate information about Covid-19 in a bid to back up his overly optimistic view of the outbreak, according to a congressional report released Monday.
Senior staff at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told investigators Trump aides bullied staff and tried to rewrite their reports in a bid to align guidance with the president’s public downplaying of the crisis.
Officials took “unprecedented steps to insert political appointees into the publication process and rebut CDC’s scientific reports, including drafting op-eds and other public messaging designed to directly counteract CDC’s findings,” the report said.
Investigators interviewed a dozen current and former CDC officials as well as senior administration figures for the 91-page document released by the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.
The panel describes how Trump appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tried to take over the CDC’s weekly scientific journal, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), editing or blocking articles they believed might prove harmful to Trump.
Trump appointees had sought to “alter the contents, rebut, or delay the release” of 18 MMWRs and a health alert, succeeding on at least five occasions.
The report quoted a CDC communications officer who complained that a Trump ally in HHS had used “bully-ish behavior” that made CDC officials “feel threatened.”
Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, said he was “not really asked back to do telebriefings” after his statements were deemed “too alarming.”
“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has shown that the previous administration engaged in an unprecedented campaign of political interference in the federal government’s pandemic response, which undermined public health to benefit the former president’s political goals,” panel chairman Jim Clyburn, a Democrat, said in a statement.
“As today’s report shows, President Trump and his top aides repeatedly attacked CDC scientists, compromised the agency’s public health guidance, and suppressed scientific reports in an effort to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus.”
A previous report outlined the Trump administration’s bid to block government health officials from speaking publicly about the pandemic.
And another described its pressure on the US Food and Drug Administration to reissue emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug Trump was promoting despite its ineffectiveness in treating Covid-19.
Republicans dismissed the latest report as partisan and have vowed to conduct their own inquiry if they win back the House or the Senate in November’s midterm elections.