Top political officials during former United States President Donald Trump's administration allegedly tried to interfere with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its COVID-19 response by blocking the agency from briefing the public, leaked documents say.
Recently revealed documents from a House committee that is investigating the former administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic give additional information on Trump officials' efforts. Allegedly, they tried to blunt or outright stop messages of career officials because they were supportive of Trump's projections.
Blocking the CDC
Former senior CDC official Nancy Messonnier, during a press briefing on Feb. 25, 2020, warned of the coming threat of the coronavirus. At the time, she told reporters that the spread of the deadly infection was guaranteed.
During the briefing, Messonnier said that the spread of the coronavirus infection was not so much as a question if it was going to happen but only when it was going to happen. The official's statements supposedly angered former President Trump, whose administration stopped allowing CDC officials from briefing the public, The Hill reported.
Transcripts noted how other CDC officials claim that their requests to brief the public about mask guidance and pediatric COVID-19 cases and deaths were blocked by the Trump administration. During an interview, the agency's former principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat said they felt "muzzled."
There have also been interviews where CDC officials described the former administration's efforts to alter or influence guidance, and weekly scientific reports called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It is not commonly shared outside the agency before it is published.
In a transcribed excerpt, Schuchat said that it took a great deal of effort from the agency to protect the integrity of the report. She added that CDC officials took an active stance in making sure that the former administration's efforts were not successful, CNN reported.
Downplaying the Coronavirus Pandemic
During an Oct. 8 interview, Messonnier said that the agency's intention was to get the American public's attention about the possibility of the coronavirus infection's spread. However, she noted that the public warning garnered her private reprimands, including from then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Additionally, Schuchat revealed the Trump officials tried to schedule a briefing several hours after Messonnier's initial report despite having no new information. The next day, the former deputy director joined Trump and officials from his administration in a briefing the next day. In that event, the former president argued that the spread of the coronavirus to the United States was not "inevitable" despite Schuchat's warning of more cases in the country.
In a later interview, Schuchat revealed that one major problem she had at the time was mixed messaging due to Trump administration officials' briefings. She said that she felt like the government had lost credibility at the time.
Between March 9 and May 29, 2020, the CDC held no news briefings, and other agency officials detailed the reasons why. A senior CDC communications official, Kate Galatas, revealed that the White House blocked the agency's media requests multiple times, including an April 2020 briefing that was planned to address the importance of wearing facial coverings to curb the spread of the infection, the Washington Post reported.