A politically appointed Health and Human Services official with no medical background has been orchestrating an operation to pressure scientists and other officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use sunnier language in their COVID-19 reports to reflect well on President Donald Trump, Politico reported Friday.
Some emails from the Health Department’s communications team viewed by Politico to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials flatly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine Trump’s optimistic messages about COVID-19. One email said that the “CDC … appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” Politico reported.
The pressure operation is being run by Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no scientific background. He was appointed the assistant secretary of HHS for public affairs in April. He runs a a team of communication aides who have been seeking unprecedented pre-publication access to the CDC reports since then, according to Politico.
Caputo cited defense against an imagined “deep state” as motivation when asked about his pressure tactics by Politico.
The Politico report follows the revelation of Trump’s admission to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward that the president has deliberately lied to the public about the COVID-19 threat by underplaying the severity of the pandemic. He told Woodward he knew it was “deadly stuff,” while saying publicly that it would disappear — failing to give Americans adequate warning to take precautions to protect their health and lives. “I wanted to always play it down,” he told Woodward in an interview for the journalist’s upcoming book, “Rage.”
CDC officials have battled to protect the integrity of the agency’s scientific reports. But in recent weeks they have “increasingly agreed” to allow Caputo and his team to review the reports and, in some cases, “compromised on the wording,” Politico reported, citing three sources with knowledge of the exchanges.
Caputo and his team have also attempted to delay and even stop the release of other reports, according to Politico, including a negative finding on the drug Trump has falsely touted as a cure for COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine.
Paul Alexander, the politically appointed author of the “hit piece” email, also called on Caputo to change the CDC’s warning of COVID’s spread among children as Trump was calling for all schools to open, Politico reported.
“CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school re-opening … Very misleading by CDC and shame on them,” stated the email, according to Politico. Alexander also reportedly tried to “muzzle” infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci from talking about the COVID-19 threat to children.
The targets of Caputo’s efforts are the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, which are written by career scientists with — usually — no political interference. They’re intended to be a fully fact-based weekly assessment of COVID-19, beyond the reach of politically motivated distortions.
The reports are the primary vehicle to keep physicians, researchers, hospitals and the public informed about how COVID-19 is spreading and who’s at risk.
Asked by Politico for a response to its report, Caputo referred to the “deep state,” which Trump claims exists, apparently referring to the scientists of the CDC. “Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior ‘deep state’ motives in the bowels of CDC,” he said.
Read the entire Politico story here.