Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services appointed by President Donald Trump celebrated their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus, a stunning new report revealed on Friday.
‘Yippee!,’ one official wrote after being able to alter a report to fit with Trump’s more optimistic messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic, The Washington Post reported.
The report, released by congressional investigators, found that as career scientists worked to combat the disease, a group of Trump-appointed officials were attempting to blunt the scientific messaging with their own set of alternative facts.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to then-public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, 2020, pointing to a report where CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence about the spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them.
In his email, Alexander called it a ‘small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!’
Alexander, who was not a doctor but a former part-time health profession, also targeted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, for Fauci’s earlier calls to close schools.
‘Dr. Fauci has no data, no science to back up what he is saying on school reopen, none … he is scaring the nation wrongfully,’ Alexander wrote to 11 senior HHS officials on Aug. 11.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services appointed by President Donald Trump celebrated their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus
At the Department of Health and Human Services, then-science adviser Paul Alexander (not pictured) wrote to then-public affairs chief Michael Caputo (left) and Dr. Scott Atlas, a White House adviser, (right) about the efforts
President Trump repeatedly pushed for schools to reopen early during the pandemic, before a vaccination had been discovered and without offering a plan to help the schools reopen safely.
Alexander also pointed to a change he got to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), which offers public updates on scientists’ findings. For decades, the MMWR had been considered sacrosanct and untouchable by politics.
Alexander enlisted then-White House adviser Scott Atlas to help him interfere with the document in relation to data on children’s death, which came about as the Trump administration was pushing schools to reopen.
‘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 also praised Nina Witkofsky, the acting CDC chief of staff, after numbers in the MMRW dropped. Witkofsky had previously been a contractor helping plan events for Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s Medicare and Medicaid chief.
‘The last 2 MMWR reports have been more positive than usual and I find [that] encouraging,’ Alexander wrote to Witkofsky on Aug. 30. ‘Maybe you are having a huge impact and this is tremendous. Well done!’
Then-CDC Director Robert Redfield told CNN last month that Trump officials had requested changes to reports, including the MMWR.
One email from Alexander to Atlas on Sept. 3 proposed an ‘op-ed on possible damage to children immune systems with lock downs and masks,’ arguing to Atlas that ‘I do think locking down our kids (and healthy adults) and masking them can dampen their functional immune systems.’
There is no scientific evidence that wearing masks harms the development of children’s immune systems.
Trump eschewed mask wearing during his White House tenure and down played the virus’ effect as it raged across the country. He praised Republican governors who opened their states and accused Democrats of election politics. More than 554,000 Americans have died from the disease.
The emails also targeted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert
The officials also worked to help Trump with his push to reopen the economy. Trump was staking his bid for a second term on a strong American economy. Before the election he was pushing for a return to normal as health experts warned migratory measures were still needed to stop the spread of the virus.
‘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.
The three men did comment to the Washington Post about their emails. Atlas was reported to have fought with Dr. Deborah Birx during his tenure in the White House as Birx questioned his medical advice. Atlas, a neuroradiologist, came to the White House’s attention after defending Trump’s handling of the pandemic on Fox News.
Caputo, a GOP political communications consultant and longtime Trump ally, had not worked in public health before Trump assigned him to HHS. Alexander, the science adviser, was not a doctor but a part-time health professor at Canada’s McMaster University.
The revelations came from the House’s Select Committee on the Coronavirus, a panel established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate the government response to the pandemic.
‘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,’ Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the subcommittee chairman, noted.
He requested that Alexander and Atlas sit for interviews with his subcommittee’s investigation by May 3.