Home — Health Emails show Trump officials celebrate efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus

Emails show Trump officials celebrate efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus

by Mary Sewell

Then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to then-HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, 2020, touting two examples of where he said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had bowed to his pressure and changed language in their reports, according to an email obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. The story continues below the advertisement

Pointing to one change — in which CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about the spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them — Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a “small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!! In the same email, Alexander touted another example of a change to a weekly report from the CDC that he said the agency made in response to his demands. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), which offer public updates on scientists’ findings, had been considered sacrosanct for decades and untouchable by political appointees in the past. Two days later, Alexander appealed to then-White House adviser Scott Atlas to help him dispute an upcoming CDC report on coronavirus-related deaths among young Americans.

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“Can you help me craft an op-ed,” Alexander wrote to Atlas on Sept. 11, alleging the CDC report was “timed for the election” and an attempt to keep schools closed even as Trump pushed to reopen them. “Let us advise the President and get permission to preempt this, please, for it will run for the weekend, so we need to blunt the edge as it is misleading.”

Alexander and other officials also strategized on how to help Trump argue to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite scientists’ warnings about the potential risks.

“I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening. We need solid estimates to be able to say something like 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!” Caputo wrote to Alexander on May 16, 2020, in an email obtained by the subcommittee.

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“You need to take ownership of these numbers. This is singularly important to what you and I want to achieve,” Caputo added in a follow-up email, urging Alexander to compile additional data on the consequences of virus-related shutdowns.

Atlas, Alexander, and Caputo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many Trump officials clashing with government scientists had little or no previous experience in combating infectious diseases. Caputo, a GOP political communications consultant and longtime Trump ally had not previously worked in public health before Trump installed him to oversee the health department’s communications in April 2020.

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Alexander, who was not a physician but recruited as Caputo’s handpicked science adviser, had previously been an unpaid, part-time health professor at Canada’s McMaster University. Atlas was a neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution who caught the White House’s attention after defending the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Fox News.

“Our investigation has shown that Trump Administration officials engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the subcommittee chairman, wrote to Alexander and Atlas. The subcommittee seeks additional documents from Alexander, Atlas, and others, noting that some of the Trump officials’ correspondence was sent from personal email accounts. Clyburn also requests that Alexander and Atlas sit for interviews with his subcommittee’s investigation by May 3.

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