HHS comms aides interfered with CDC COVID-19 reports: Politico

Politically appointed comms aides demanded and received the right to review HHS and CDC communications with doctors and the public, according to media reports.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo was named HHS' top spokesperson in April. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: Communications aides in the Department of Health and Human Services led by a former Trump campaign official demanded and were given the right to review and change the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly reports, according to internal emails seen by Politico.

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are written by career scientists and are the main outlet for the agency to communicate with doctors, researchers and the public about the spread of COVID-19.

Since the April appointment of Trump campaign official Michael Caputo, who does not have a medical or scientific background, as spokesperson for the department, a concerted effort has been made to align the reports with President Donald Trump’s statements, according to reports from Politico and The New York Times.

Emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield complained that the agency's reports were sabotaging Trump, with one message from appointee Paul Alexander reading, "CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration."

CDC officials have fought the efforts of Caputo and his team to change the reports but have been increasingly allowing HHS to review them before publication, according to the media reports. 

Democratic lawmakers launched an investigation on Monday into the allegations. Led by House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), lawmakers have requested interviews with officials from the CDC and HHS and access to documents and emails.  

Caputo did not respond to PRWeek's request for comment, but he did respond to the accusations in a Facebook Live session on Sunday by saying he was fighting the "deep state" and accusing scientists of "sedition." He also claimed the CDC has a "resistance unit" with a goal of undermining the president and warned that left-wing hit squads will mount an armed insurrection after the election, according to The New York Times.

Politico’s report was published just days after excerpts from an upcoming book from journalist Bob Woodward, “Rage,” revealed that Trump acknowledged in March that he wanted to downplay the threat of the virus. 

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump can be heard saying in recordings of an interview. 

Democratic lawmakers are also demanding more information from the Trump administration about the $250 million marketing and PR campaign that HHS awarded to Fors Marsh Group last month, with some concerned the push will be a thinly veiled campaign ad for Trump. 

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