Trump administration officials have sought to water down reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Politico reported Friday night, with one political appointee accusing career scientists of trying to undermine the president's campaign to reopen schools.
"CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration," Dr. Paul Alexander, a scientific advisor to agency spokesperson Michael Caputo, wrote in an Aug. 8 email to CDC Director Robert Redfield. Alexander, who was appointed this spring by Caputo, a former Trump campaign official, accused scientists of seeking to "hurt the president," according to the email obtained by Politico.
Caputo and his communications staff have worked to delay CDC reports that contradict President Donald Trump's rhetoric. One publication was held back for about a month, according to Politico, for recommending against the use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug touted by the White House as a potential cure for COVID-19.
The reports, written by career scientists, are known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, and according to Politico, are used to "inform doctors, researchers, and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk." Jennifer Kates, of the Kaiser Family Foundation's global health work, who has relied on past reports, told Political they are "the go-to place for the public health community to get information that's scientifically vetted."
The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization of the drug in late-March but revoked it in June after it was found to not be effective against COVID-19 with potentially fatal side-effects. Several scientific studies have also shown that hydroxychloroquine is not effective for COVID-19.
In the Aug. 8 email, Alexander took particular aim at a scientific report that warned of the dangers from reopening schools.
"CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school re-opening," Alexander wrote. "Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear."
Since mid-July, nearly 2,500 schools and campuses have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a database maintained by the National Education Association. Dozens of schools that reopened have been forced to put students and staff in quarantine. There have been at least 34 deaths.
Alexander, in this missive, said any future reports related to the coronavirus "must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself," calling previous work "outrageous" and "lunacy."
"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,'" Alexander told Redfield and other officials.
In a statement to Politico, Caputo defended Alexander, "an Oxford-educated epidemiologist."
Caputo was appointed to his role at the health department in April is and is a loyalist to Trump. He's worked on Republican campaigns since the 1980s and also worked as a public-relations consultant for a Russian state-owned energy company in the 1990s.
Caputo has also asserted conspiracy theories including claiming that the Russia probe and the Ukraine investigation, which led to Trump's impeachment in 2019, were part of a plot to "enrich global insiders like Hunter Biden, George Soros, and more."
"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.
Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, suggested the revelation of political interference with the CDC's work should prompt legal action.
"The level of corruption involving public health — meaning more people dying because of it — by Trump and his minions is so, so high, and so, so despicable," he wrote on Twitter. "All of these people should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment."
Trump has repeatedly made claims about the coronavirus that contradicted the information presented by public health experts. The president has also admitted to veteran journalist Bob Woodward of downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic early on.
"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic," Trump told Woodward on March 19.
The CDC did not reply to Business Insider's request for comment at the time of publication.
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