Newly released documents show how former Trump administration stifled scientists on coronavirus

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis finds Trump officials blocked government officials from giving health briefings, censored recommendations
President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and CDC Director Robert Redfield, takes questions from reporters during a Coronavirus Task Force update Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Photo: D. Myles Cullen/White House

First published at Daily Kos

The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has been in the news so much lately that it seems like it would be easier to just refer to it as simply the Select Committee. But it’s not the only one. There is also the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which was formed back in April 2020 and is still very much in business. Despite its relative absence from the news, this subcommittee has been busy investigating topics ranging from illegal evictions during the pandemic to how to fight vaccine resistance.

But it’s a series of just-released documents from that committee that may make the media remember that this committee is out there. Working with both emails and texts, the committee shows both the extent to which members of the Trump White House interfered with efforts to protect the public, and the way they consistently worked to downplay the threat—leading to disaster.

Those efforts extend back to appearances by Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at the very outside of the pandemic in February of 2020. In a pair of appearances, Messonier warned that the spread of Covid-19 in the United States was a matter of “when not if,” and that “disruption to everyday life may be severe.“

Neither of those messages met with Donald Trump’s approval. From that day forward, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were forbidden from holding briefings, and the White House took over coronavirus messaging. A day after Messonier’s bracing talk, Trump went on to tell the nation that “we have a total of 15 people” with Covid-19, and they are “all getting better.”

As the documents show, shoving the experts off-screen to replace them with happy talk was just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg.

The emails obtained by the subcommittee show that Trump was “angered” by Messonier’s entirely accurate assessment of the situation. The CDC was then blocked from giving any public briefings for over three months, at a critical time when the disease was spreading, but knowledge of things like mask efficacy and what situations were most likely to spread the virus was improving.

  • When Trump brought in Covid-19 skeptic Scott Atlas as a “special advisor” to the coronavirus task force, Atlas immediately moved to drastically reduce guidelines for Covid-19 testing. Dr, Deborah Birx confirmed to the committee that this move was made specifically to reduce the level of testing across the nation, generating a false impression of the level of new cases.
     
  • HHS political appointee Paul Alexander demanded that CDC stop publishing scientific reports he believed were damaging to Trump. CDC officials were then ordered to delete Alexander’s emails to cover up this attempt to quash vital public data.
     
  • Dr. Messonnier was told in very clear terms to shut up by both former HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Trump-appointed CDC director (and now vocal “blame China” proponent) Robert Redfield.
     
  • CDC communications officer Kate Galatas was refused when she asked to hold a briefing in April to share information on a new CDC recommendation to wear face coverings and new evidence of how the virus represented a threat to children. The idea that the CDC was somehow against masks would persist for months.
     
  • The CDC team swiftly became so frustrated by their inability to get out accurate information, that they tried to circumvent Trump’s coronavirus task force to get guidelines on safe working conditions out to hard-hit meatpackers. They got caught, and the language in the CDC guidelines was “softened” by Redfield, in order to align with Trump’s demands that people stay on the job. Over 250 meatpackers died and 59,000 tested positive.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump and his team worked to stifle the release of accurate information, to block scientists from talking to the public, and to spread false information designed to downplay the threat. All of this makes it seem that this particular select subcommittee could easily join the Jan. 6 select committee in asking the DOJ for criminal indictments.