House Democrats launch investigation of political interference in CDC science publications

House Democrats are launching an investigation into the Trump administration’s political interference with the publication of scientific reports at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), cited reporting from Politico that showed administration appointees have repeatedly interfered with the CDC’s reports on the pandemic, which are published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The lawmakers said they are investigating the scope of political interference with the CDC’s scientific reports and other efforts to combat the pandemic, the impact of the interference on the CDC’s mission, whether the interference is continuing and any “steps that Congress may need to take to stop it before more Americans die needlessly.”

“Political appointees’ attempts to interfere with CDC’s scientific reports, or MMWRs, risk undermining the scientific integrity of these reports and of the CDC itself,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield.

“During the pandemic, experts have relied on these reports to determine how the virus spreads and who is at greatest risk. Yet HHS officials apparently viewed these scientific reports as opportunities for political manipulation,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Democrats cited reporting that showed political appointees at HHS, including Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and senior adviser Paul Alexander, have been focused on suppressing and changing reports to align more closely with President TrumpDonald John TrumpCrowd aims ‘lock him up’ chant at Obama during Trump rally Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally Michigan lieutenant governor blasts Trump coronavirus response: He ‘is a liar who has killed people’ MORE‘s attempts to downplay the full extent of the pandemic.

The Democrats called for the administration to provide communications sent or received by Redfield regarding the reports, as well as additional documents from Caputo, Alexander, Azar and HHS public relations aide Brad Traverse.

In a rare move, the lawmakers are seeking to conduct transcribed interviews with political and career CDC and HHS officials, including CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, acting CDC chief of staff Nina Witkofsky, acting CDC deputy chief of staff Trey Moeller, acting CDC communications director Kate Galatas and MMWR editor-in-chief Charlotte Kent. 

The Democrats are also seeking to interview Caputo and Alexander, after speaking with the CDC and HHS staff. The lawmakers said they want interviews to begin Sept. 22.

In an interview with The Washington Post over the weekend, Caputo defended attempts to control the timing and content of the reports. 

Caputo blamed “ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC” and claimed without evidence that some of the MMWRs have been used as political tools to discredit President Trump.

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