CDC officials ‘directed to destroy’ records of potential ‘political interference’ by Trump

Charlotte Kent testified that CDC officials directed her to destroy an email that claimed the agency was not presenting President Trump in a good light

A scientist has testified that CDC officials directed her to destroy records that showed political interference by President Donald Trump over their handling of the coronavirus.

Charlotte Kent, chief of the scientific publications branch and editor-in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality weekly report, told congressional investigators on Monday that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield attempted to interfere on Trump’s behalf, NBC reported. Kent claimed that Redfield told his staff to delete an email that showed a Trump appointee seeking control of the agency’s scientific reports on the COVID-19 crisis.

“I was instructed to delete the email,” MMWR editor Kent said.

(Credit: Getty Images)

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Kent was on vacation at the time of the request and was informed by a co-worker.

“I went to look for it after I had been told to delete it, and it was already gone,” she told investigators.

The email was authored by appointee Paul Alexander on Aug. 8.

“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” Alexander wrote.

“CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school reopening. … Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear. … This is designed to hurt the president for their reasons which I am not interested in.”

Alexander is an assistant professor of health research at McMaster University near Toronto who served as a scientific adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS spokesman. Alexander wanted Redfield to put an “immediate stop” to any more reports until he could personally review them.

Alexander left the department in September amid backlash due to his actions and Caputo took a leave of absence from his post as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Rep. James Clyburn wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Redfield on Thursday about Kent’s testimony. He expressed his “serious concern about what may be deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal and destroy evidence that senior political appointees interfered with career officials’ response to the coronavirus crisis.”

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HHS pushed back against the allegations in a statement and claimed the subcommittee was not operating in good faith.

A HHS spokesperson said the “characterization of the conversation with Dr. Kent is irresponsible. We urge the Subcommittee to release the transcript in full which will show that during her testimony Dr. Kent repeatedly said there was no political interference in the MMWR process.”

Clyburn, chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, was not swayed by the response. He threatened to issue subpoenas if the Trump administration were not more forthcoming with the documents that have been requested. He gave Dec. 15 as the deadline.

“I am deeply concerned that the Trump Administration’s political meddling with the nation’s coronavirus response has put American lives at greater risk, and that Administration officials may have taken steps to conceal and destroy evidence of this dangerous conduct,” the Chairman wrote.

“It is critical that the Department end its stonewalling, preserve or recover all responsive documents, and provide the documents and witnesses that the Select Subcommittee needs to investigate this conduct and help protect American lives during this deadly pandemic.”

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