White House pressured CDC on reopening schools, officials say

Washington — Top White House officials over the summer pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to downplay the risk of the coronavirus among young people and encourage the reopening of schools, according to two former CDC officials who were at the agency at the time.

The New York Times first reported that White House officials, including aides in Vice President Mike Pence’s office and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, were involved in trying to circumvent the CDC to promote data that showed the spread of the virus was slowing. The former CDC officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CBS News that the information in the Times report was accurate.

Olivia Troye, a former adviser to Pence who worked on the White House coronavirus task force, told the Times that she was repeatedly asked by Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, to produce more data showing a decline in cases in young people. Troye left the White House in August and has since become a vocal critic of the president and the administration’s coronavirus response.

The Times also reported that Birx pushed the CDC to include data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, which said that extended school closures could affect children’s mental health and argued that transmission of the virus among family members was low. The Times obtained an email from Birx to CDC Director Robert Redfield asking him to incorporate the document as “background” in CDC guidance for reopening schools.

President Trump over the summer repeatedly argued that schools should be reopened for in-person learning. At an event in July, he said “we want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall.”


NYC students return to class as COVID cases s…

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A second former CDC official involved in writing the guidelines told CBS News that Birx was influential in shaping the message surrounding schools reopening, and pushed to focus on the risk factors involved for kids if they stayed home instead of the risks linked to going back to class. This official said that the White House was “slicing and dicing our data to fit its narrative.”

This person said that CDC scientists were most alarmed by the “preamble” to guidance posted on the website, which stressed the potential negative impact on children if schools did not reopen quickly. While the CDC had incorporated some of the data about that into their own guidelines, they were against making it the top focus.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement to CBS News that the president “relies on the advice of all of his top health officials who agree that it is in the public health interest to safely reopen schools, and that the relative risks posed by the virus to young people are outweighed by the risks of keeping children out of school indefinitely.”

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White House pressured CDC on reopening schools, report says

Washington — Top White House officials over the summer pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to downplay the risk of the coronavirus among young people and encourage the reopening of schools, according to a former CDC official who was at the agency at the time.

The New York Times first reported that White House officials, including officials in Vice President Mike Pence’s office and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, were involved in trying to circumvent the CDC to promote data that showed the spread of the virus was slowing. The former CDC official told CBS News that the information in the Times report was accurate.

Olivia Troye, a former member of Pence’s staff, told the Times that she was repeatedly asked by Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, to produce more data showing a decline in cases in young people.

The Times also reported that Birx pushed the CDC to include data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, which said that extended school closures could affect children’s mental health and argued that transmission of the virus among family members was low. The Times obtained an email from Birx to CDC Director Robert Redfield asking him to incorporate the document as “background” in CDC guidance for reopening schools.

President Trump over the summer repeatedly argued that schools should be reopened for in-person learning. At an event in July, he said “we want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall.”

Another former CDC official involved in writing the guidelines told CBS News that Birx was influential in shaping the message surrounding schools reopening, and pushed to focus on the risk factors involved for kids if they stayed home instead of the risks linked to going back to class. This official said that the White House was “slicing and dicing our data to fit its narrative.”

This official said that CDC scientists were most alarmed by the “preamble” to the guidance that was posted on the website, the document that stressed the potential negative impact on children if schools did not reopen quickly. While the CDC had incorporated some of the data about that into their own guidelines, they were against making it the top focus.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement to CBS News that the president “relies on the advice of all of his top health officials who agree that it is in the public health interest to safely reopen schools, and that the relative risks posed by the virus to young people are outweighed by the risks of keeping children out of school indefinitely.”

A White House official touted Birx’s close relationship with Redfield, telling CBS News that “the notion that Dr. Birx was ‘pressuring’ Dr. Redfield to do something he didn’t agree with seems preposterous on its face.”

“A conversation or comments exchanged between friends and colleagues is

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White House ‘pressured official to say John Bolton book was security risk’



a person holding a sign: Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

A former National Security Council official who while working there reviewed John Bolton’s memoir for classified information before publication, has claimed that White House lawyers tried to pressure her into signing misleading statements to prevent the publication ofthe book.

The allegations come a week after the US Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into whether Bolton, the former national security adviser, mishandled classified information in his book, The Room Where It Happened. Highly critical of Trump, the book was a bestseller when it was published in June, selling 780,000 copies in its first week.

In a letter filed in federal court in Washington on Wednesday, lawyers for Ellen Knight, the former senior director for records, access and information security management at the NSC, said that her prepublication review of Bolton’s book had actually cleared it in April.

According to the letter, Knight and her colleagues spent “hundreds of hours over the course of four months reviewing and researching information found in the over 500-page manuscript”.

Initially, they found the manuscript “contained voluminous amounts of classified information and that it would take a significant effort to put it into publishable shape”. But after a four-month consultation described as “regular, intensive and occasionally spirited”, Knight’s team determined that the “heavily revised” manuscript “would disclose no information that would cause harm to our national security”.

But Knight’s lawyers allege that White House officials then conducted their own review of Bolton’s revised manuscript and claimed it still contained classified information, in a process that Knight called “fundamentally flawed”. Knight alleges that the officials then tried “to get her to admit that she and her team had missed something or made a mistake”, which could be used to support their argument to block publication.



a person holding a sign: A copy of The Room Where It Happened outside the White House.


© Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP
A copy of The Room Where It Happened outside the White House.

Knight then declined to sign a declaration saying that Bolton’s book still contained classified information, intended to be filed in the lawsuit against Bolton. Despite efforts from what she described as “a rotating cast of Justice Department and White House attorneys … over the course of five days and a total of 18 hours of meetings”, she refused.

“Ms Knight asked the attorneys how it could be appropriate that a designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose. She asked them to explain why they were so insistent on pursuing litigation rather than resolving the potential national security issues through engagement with Ambassador Bolton and her team,” the letter reads. “The attorneys had no answer for her challenges, aside from a rote recitation of the government’s legal position that Ambassador Bolton had violated his contractual obligations by failing to wait for written clearance.”

The letter claims that when Knight “speculated that this litigation was happening ‘because the most powerful man in the world said that it needed to happen’, several registered their agreement with that diagnosis of the situation”.

Knight

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House Oversight Committee to investigate postmaster general after claims he pressured employees to make campaign donations

The House Oversight Committee has opened up a new front in its investigation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for allegedly pressuring his employees to make campaign donations to GOP candidates.

The Washington Post reported this weekend that while DeJoy was CEO of New Breed Logistics, he or his aides pressured employees to write checks and attend GOP fundraisers at his mansion, five people who worked for New Breed told the paper. DeJoy, a megadonor for the Republican Party, would reimburse the employees through bonuses, an arrangement that is unlawful, the Post reported Sunday.

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“If these allegations are true, Mr. DeJoy could face criminal exposure—not only for his actions in North Carolina, but also for lying to our Committee under oath,” House Oversight Committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement Tuesday to Fox News. “We will be investigating this issue, but I believe the Board of Governors must take emergency action to immediately suspend Mr. DeJoy, who they never should have selected in the first place.”

Maloney is referencing testimony DeJoy gave the Oversight Committee on Aug. 24 when he was called to answer questions on mail delays and cost-cutting measures before the presidential election, which will rely increasingly on mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Under questioning from Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., DeJoy denied pressuring his employees to donate to President Trump.

“Did you pay back several of your top executives for contributing to Trump’s campaign by bonusing or rewarding them?” Cooper asked.

“That’s an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it,” DeJoy said, noting he wasn’t working at his company during the Trump campaign. “The answer is no.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on slowdowns at the Postal Service ahead of the November elections on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 24, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on slowdowns at the Postal Service ahead of the November elections on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 24, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS

Monty Hagler, a spokesman for DeJoy in his private capacity, provided Fox News with a statement Tuesday that DeJoy consistently encouraged employees and family members to be active in their communities and provided them with various volunteer opportunities to get involved in activities.

“Mr. DeJoy was never notified by the New Breed employees referenced by the Washington Post of any pressure they might have felt to make a political contribution, and he regrets if any employee felt uncomfortable for any reason,” Hagler said.

“During his leadership of New Breed Logistics, Mr. DeJoy sought and received legal advice from the former General Counsel of the Federal Election Commission on election laws, including the law of political contributions, to ensure that he, New Breed Logistics and any person affiliated with New Breed fully complied with any and all laws,” Hagler said. “Mr. DeJoy believes that all campaign fundraising laws and regulations should be complied with in all respects.”

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Trump on

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House Oversight Committee will investigate Louis DeJoy following claims he pressured employees to make campaign donations

Maloney also urged the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service to immediately suspend DeJoy, who, she said, “they never should have hired in the first place.”

A spokesman for the Postal Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maloney’s announcement came a day after The Washington Post reported allegations that DeJoy and his aides urged employees at his former North Carolina-based logistics company to write checks and attend fundraisers on behalf of Republican candidates.

DeJoy then defrayed the cost of those political contributions by boosting employee bonuses, two employees told The Post.

Although it can be permissible to encourage employees to make donations, reimbursing them for those contributions is a violation of North Carolina and federal election laws.

Such federal violations carry a five-year statute of limitations. There is no statute of limitations in North Carolina for felonies, including campaign finance violations.

Maloney said DeJoy faces “criminal exposure” not only if the allegations are true, “but also for lying to our committee under oath.”

Maloney was referring to DeJoy’s testimony to the House Oversight panel last month, when he forcefully denied that he had repaid executives for contributions they had made to President Trump’s campaign.

The former employees who spoke to The Post all described donations they gave between 2003 and 2014, before Trump’s first White House run. By 2016, DeJoy had sold the company and retired.

The Post’s findings prompted calls for an independent investigation from Democrats, including the Democratic Attorneys General Association and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the North Carolina attorney general to launch a criminal investigation.

“These are very serious allegations that must be investigated immediately, independent of Donald Trump’s Justice Department” Schumer said in a statement Sunday.

The accounts of DeJoy’s former employees come amid what has been a rocky tenure so far for him at the helm of the U.S. Postal Service. After his appointment in May, he swiftly instituted changes he said were aimed at cutting costs, leading to a reduction of overtime and limits on mail trips that postal carriers said created backlogs across the country.

Democrats have accused DeJoy, who has personally given more than $1.1 million to Trump Victory, the joint fundraising vehicle of the president’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party, of seeking to hobble the Postal Service because of the president’s antipathy to voting by mail. As states have expanded access to mail voting because of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly attacked the practice and claimed without evidence that it will lead to rampant fraud.

The Postal Service chief emphasized to House lawmakers last month that the agency will prioritize election mail. Responding to questions about his fundraising, DeJoy scoffed. “Yes, I am a Republican … I give a lot of money to Republicans.” But he pushed back fiercely on accusations that he was seeking to undermine the November vote. “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said. “We will do everything

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