House Subcommittee Seeks More HHS, CDC Documents in Investigation of COVID-19 Response

With two COVID-19 vaccines now beginning to be administered across the United States, House Democrats launched an investigation into incidents of political interference that stymied the national response to the ongoing pandemic.

This week, House leadership issued subpoenas for documents possessed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control that could highlight interference from the White House. The House leadership requested the documents be delivered by Dec. 30, according to CNBC. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said the subpoenas were issued following his revelations made by his committee’s investigation.

“The… investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known,” Clyburn said in a statement, according to CNBC.

The subcommittee has been investigating reports of political appointees who interfered with the issuing of various COVID-19 reports throughout the crisis in order to protect messaging from the White House that conflicted with the data. Specifically, the subcommittee is looking at attempts from Trump loyalists Paul Alexander and Michael Caputo who interfered with language used in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. The CDC has long been considered an independent agency, but the political appointees paid close attention to anything that seemed to contradict the rosier image portrayed by the White House. Alexander was a top deputy to Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Caputo. One example of how they interfered is the White House’s championing of hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment for COVID-19, despite the numerous clinical studies that showed the malaria treatment had no real impact on the disease.

Other areas where the Trump duo seemed to interfere involved their attempts to halt the publication of a CDC report that noted a COVID-19 outbreak at a Georgia summer camp. The CDC report pointed to the rapid spread of the virus among campers, but Alexander flexed his political muscle to downplay the language in the report while the White House was pushing for schools to reopen in the fall.

More recently, Alexander, a science adviser to the president, has been criticized for his support of a controversial approach to the pandemic. Alexander was a proponent of mass infections in order to develop herd immunity.

“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” one of the emails authored by Alexander reads, according to Politico. “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle-aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…”

In addition to pushing the herd immunity strategy, which was not taken up by the administration, Alexander was instrumental in trying to shape a message that was favorable to Trump leading up to the elections. In its report, Politico noted Alexander attempted to spin messages that would cast blame on Democratic leaders in state and local governments for the spike of COVID cases in minority populations.

Caputo is also under scrutiny for threats made against CDC communications personnel who arranged interviews with the media. Emails obtained by the House subcommittee show Caputo threatened to fire these employees who allowed CDC officials to speak to the media without clearing it through his office, CNBC reported.

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