What happened: Senior political officials ordered an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to destroy an email. The email contained evidence of a political official attempting to interfere with a CDC study. The CDC study was looking at the risks of COVID-19 to children.
Why it matters: When political officials attempt to interfere with scientific reports, the government cannot use the best available science to protect the health and safety of people across the country. In this case, political officials attempted to go further and bury evidence of their politically-driven actions, thereby failing to be transparent to the people in America about their actions. This also occurred during the height of the pandemic and therefore delayed important scientific information about COVID-19 and children to the larger public.
An official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testified to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that she was ordered by senior political officials to delete an email that contained evidence of a senior official attempting to alter a CDC coronavirus study. Charlotte Kent, editor in chief of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) – one the world’s most respected epidemiological reports – testified that she received instructions to delete an email that was written by Paul Alexander on August 8, 2020. Charlotte Kent stated that she was told by other officials that the instructions to the delete the email came from CDC director Robert Redfield.
Paul Alexander was a senior advisor to Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Both Michael Caputo and Paul Alexander committed or tried to commit a number of major scientific integrity violations while working at HHS. This included tampering with language in CDC publications on COVID-19, adding caveats to downplay scientific findings, attempting to halt the publication of numerous CDC studies, publicly accusing federal scientists of “sedition,” and attempting to restrict how Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about COVID-19 and the risks posed to children.
A portion of the email that Charlotte Kent was ordered to delete was published in the press. In the email, Paul Alexander demanded that the CDC add new language in a previously published CDC MMWR study, which had examined COVID-19 risks to children. Alexander wrote that if the CDC failed to add the new language, it had to “pull it [the study] down and stop all reports immediately.” He also wrote, the “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 this Presidnet [sic]…”
Federal employees have a duty to preserve documents. The destruction of federal records is potentially illegal under the Federal Records Act and, under federal law, a person can serve up to three years of imprisonment for the willful destruction of federal records. Trump administration officials demanding the destruction of an email that contains evidence of political tampering in a scientific study is a chilling example of the administration’s disregard of transparency, scientific integrity, and the scientific process.