A political appointee of President Trump has been interfering with COVID-19 reports by health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because their data doesn’t match the ‘optimistic messages’ sought by the White House.
The reported interference was learned a day after it was revealed that the same group of Trump loyalists were seeking to muzzle Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Since being named spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, the Republican Party operative and former Trump campaign official, and his staff have pressured CDC personnel to alter the wording of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Michael Caputo (left), who was named by President Trump as chief spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services this past April, has reportedly demanded that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield (right) and his staff alter their scientific reports so that they’re in line with the White House’s ‘optimistic’ message
Since being named spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, Caputo, the Republican Party operative and former Trump campaign official, and his staff have pressured CDC personnel to alter the wording of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (above)
The report has usually been published without any political interference and is a key method by which the CDC advises doctors and the general public about COVID-19.
Caputo, who has no medical or health background, was named to the spokesperson’s position in April.
Since then, he and his team have tried to stop the CDC from releasing some of its findings that do not line up with messaging from Trump, POLITICO is reporting.
Caputo and his staffers reportedly tried to retroactively change agency reports which they claimed inflated the risks of COVID-19.
The political appointees reportedly sought to make clear in the reports that American who became infected with the virus did so due to their own behavior, according to POLITICO.
Another report which Caputo and his team objected to dealt with the CDC findings on how doctors were prescribing hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug touted by Trump as a treatment for COVID-19.
A top Caputo aide reportedly has sought to muzzle Dr. Anthony Fauci (pictured), the nation’s top infectious disease expert
Medical professionals have stated that there is no therapeutic benefit to using the drug to treat COVID-19.
According to POLITICO, Caputo and his staff delayed the CDC report for a month while they questioned the authors’ political motivations.
The report, which was published last week, stated that ‘the potential benefits of these drugs do not outweigh their risks.’
POLITICO cited an August 8 email in which a Caputo aide slammed Redfield and other CDC officials for using the agency’s reports to ‘hurt the President.’
‘CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,’ Paul Alexander, a political appointee, wrote.
Alexander demanded that Redfield re-edit two published reports which he claimed overstated the risks of COVID-19 to children.
Alexander also accused Redfield and the agency of undermining the president’s efforts to get schools reopened.
Alexander wrote: ‘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. Their aim is clear.’
He demanded that Redfield stop all future MMWR reports until the CDC changed its longstanding publication process and allowed Alexander to personally review the whole report before it was published.
Alexander also demanded that the CDC let him make line edits. He also wanted the agency to make an ‘immediate stop’ to the reports.
Caputo recruited Alexander, an assistant professor of health research at Toronto’s McMaster University, this past spring to be his scientific adviser.
‘The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous,’ Alexander told Redfield.
Paul Alexander, who is a senior adviser to Trump-appointed HHS assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, asked as recently as Tuesday for Fauci to avoid advocating for children to wear masks
‘Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and “complete”.’
While CDC officials have pushed back on Caputo’s encroachment into their work, they have recently allowed his team to review the reports before their publication.
Caputo defended the actions of his team in seeking changes to CDC reports, telling POLITICO that Alexander is ‘an Oxford-educated epidemiologist’ who specializes ‘in analyzing the work of other scientists.’
‘Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists,’ Caputo told POLITICO.
‘Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers.’
Caputo said it was appropriate for his department, HHS, to review CDC reports.
‘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.
Alexander is the same HHS official who has reportedly been working to stop Fauci from speaking publicly about the risks of COVID-19 in children.
Emails obtained by Politico show that Alexander has been trying to instruct Fauci’s staff about what he should say during media interviews.
Alexander asked as recently as Tuesday for Fauci to avoid advocating for children to wear masks.
‘Can you ensure Dr Fauci indicates masks are for the teachers in schools. Not for children,’ Alexander wrote in an email to Fauci’s spokesperson ahead of an interview with MSNBC.
‘There is no data, none, zero, across the entire world, that shows children especially young children, spread this virus to other children, or to adults or to their teachers. None. And if it did occur, the risk is essentially zero.’
In an August 27 email, Alexander wrote that he ‘vehemently’ disagreed with the infectious disease expert.
That email was in response to a summary from the press office at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about what Fauci planned to tell a Bloomberg reporter.
‘I continue to have an issue with kids getting tested and repeatedly and even university students in a widespread manner… and I disagree with Dr Fauci on this. Vehemently,’ he wrote.
Some emails show that Fauci’s aides have pushed back against Alexander’s requests.
One scientist at the institute wrote to Alexander in late August, saying she disagreed with his suggestion that COVID-19 posed ‘zero’ risk to children.
‘I am an infectious diseases physician on Dr Fauci’s staff,’ Andrea Lerner, a medical officer in the Office of the Director, wrote in the email.
‘While transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 involving children are not fully understood, potentially complex and probably differ across age groups, I don’t feel it is correct to say there is “no evidence, zero, that children spread this virus to children in schools or to adults.” Or that, “They take influenza home but do not take COVID home”.’
She cited four different studies, including a CDC report on an outbreak at a Georgia summer camp that said 44 percent of children and young adults had tested positive in June.
Alexander responding that it would be ‘traumatic’ for children to have to wear masks.
He also attached a series of studies that he said showed there was ‘little, if any evidence’ that children are at risk.
Fauci, who has been director of the institute since 1984, denied the suggestion that he was being muzzled.
He said he hadn’t seen the emails and that no one on his staff advised him on what to say.
‘I would never be muzzled about anything when it comes to science and evidence and the facts,’ Fauci told Fox News.
In a statement, Caputo – who is Alexander’s superior – said the official specialized in analyzing other scientists’ work.
‘Dr Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists,’ Caputo said.
‘Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers. I hired Dr Alexander for his expertise and not to simply resonate others’ opinions.’
Fauci has, at times, been at odds with the Trump administration during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci said on Friday he disagreed with Trump’s assessment the United States has ’rounded the corner’ on the coronavirus pandemic, saying the statistics are disturbing.
Fauci, the outspoken director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the United States was starting the flu season with a high baseline of around 40,000 new cases a day and deaths are averaging around 1,000 daily.
Trump, who has admitted playing down the severity of the virus since it emerged early this presidential election year, said on Thursday he believed the United States was ’rounding the corner’ on the crisis.
‘I have to disagree with that, because, if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics … they are disturbing,’ Fauci said on MSNBC. ‘We’re plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day. And the deaths are around a thousand.
Fauci said he hoped the country did not see a spike in cases after the Labor Day weekend as it did after other long holiday weekends since May.
It was important to get those infection rates down before the autumn and winter seasons when people will be spending more time indoors. ‘You don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high,’ Fauci said.
Dr Fauci says U.S. won’t get back to normal until late 2021 when a successful vaccine for COVID-19 could be widely distributed
Fauci told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchel that he is confident there will be a vaccine available by the end of this year or early 2021
Asked about the outdoor campaign rallies Trump has resumed before his November 3rd matchup against Democrat Joe Biden, Fauci said they are ‘absolutely’ risky.
Fauci has previously warned that some schools in certain areas should be more cautious about reopening amid the pandemic.
Fauci said schools in regions with low infections, which would be considered ‘green zones’, would have no problem reopening.
‘If you’re in a yellow zone, it’s more of a risk, so you may want to modify your schedule,’ he said.
‘If you’re in a red zone, there’s a high degree of viral activity, I think you need to think twice before you get children to go back to school.’
It comes after it emerged on Wednesday that Fauci had criticized Trump as ‘rudderless’ in dealing with the pandemic, according to Bob Woodward’s bombshell new book.
He made the comment to an associate, Woodward says.
Trump’s ‘attention span is like a minus number,’ Woodward quotes Fauci as saying.
‘His sole purpose is to get reelected,’ according to the book, which reports Fauci told other players that Trump ‘is on a separate channel’ and wasn’t focussed in meetings.
The release of the book excerpts came on a day Fauci said he is ‘frustrated’ by large political gatherings where many people aren’t wearing masks – even as he once again sought to temper what might come off as public criticism of Trump.
Fauci called on public officials to ‘set an example’ following a Trump rally in North Carolina attended by thousands of people.
Fauci, who for months has tried to balance his desire to share public health warnings without drawing headlines that put him at odds with Trump, was asked on ‘CBS This Morning’ if it was frustrating for him as an expert to see rallies with large contingents of unmasked people.
‘The president continues to hold these massive rallies where people are not wearing masks including the president himself,’ interviewer Gayle King asked Fauci.
‘Well, yes, it is. I’ve said that often,’ Fauci responded.
‘That situation is we want to set an example. Because we know that when you do four or five typical kind of public health measures: mask, physical distance, avoiding crowds, making sure you do most things outdoors versus indoors,’ he continued.
‘Those are the kinds of things that turn around surges and also prevent us from getting surges. So I certainly would like to see universal wearing of masks,’ he said.