CDC director reportedly asked staff to destroy evidence of Trump administration meddling

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report's editor was apparently told to downplay the severity of the pandemic

By Meaghan Ellis
December 14, 2020 10:46AM (UTC)
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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prepares to speak at a briefing on the Trump administration's coronavirus response in the press briefing room of the White House on March 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. Officials took questions on a range of issues related to the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. Also pictured is Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asked members of his staff to discard an email from a Trump-appointed political figure seeking to manage the public health agency's COVID-19 reports, according to a senior official.

During a private interview on Monday, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) editor Charlotte Kent spoke with investigators as she shared details about the email she received from Paul Alexander, the former scientific adviser to Health and Human Services (HHS) representative Michael Caputo.

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According to Kent, the Aug. 8 email was an attempt by Alexander to dilute the publication's report and manipulate it to align with President Donald Trump's downplaying of the pandemic. She also confirmed she was told to delete that particular email.

"I was instructed to delete the email," Kent told investigators. "I went to look for it after I had been told to delete it, and it was already gone."

In response to the claim, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, penned a letter addressed to Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as he warned about the illegalities and legal consequences of destroying federal records.

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"Federal employees have affirmative obligations to preserve documents, and destruction of federal records is potentially illegal," Clyburn warned in a letter to Redfield and Azar. "Federal law also provides for up to three years of imprisonment for willful destruction of federal records."

Despite heightened scrutiny from House Democrats, Redfield previously waved off speculation of political interference in his agency's handling of the pandemic.

"I just want to assure you and the other senators and the American public, that the scientific integrity of the MMWR has not been compromised," Redfield told a Senate committee on Sept. 16. "It will not be compromised on my watch."


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