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House subpoenas 2 health officials over COVID-19 meddling accusations

By
Jean Lotus
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis issued subpoenas Monday to Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for allegedly meddling with federal health agencies to downplay the pandemic.  File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis issued subpoenas Monday to Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for allegedly meddling with federal health agencies to downplay the pandemic.  File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Democrats in the U.S. House issued subpoenas Monday to two top White House health officials, saying that Trump administration appointees attempted to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to the coronavirus.

Democrat Majority Whip James Clyburn said in a statement that the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis demanded answers from the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield, calling efforts to interfere with scientific work "far more extensive and dangerous than previously known."

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Clybrurn said Monday that former HHS Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo, senior adviser Paul Alexander, and other officials engaged in a "far-reaching campaign to influence CDC's scientific reports, despite pushback from career staff."

In a letter to Azar and Redfield, the committee alleges that Alexander and Caputo "attempted to muzzle CDC scientists by retaliating against career employees who provided truthful information to the public and targeting CDC staff."

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Emails from Alexander acquired by the committee show that he was advocating a policy of "herd immunity" for the virus in the summer, writing, "Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk....so we use them to develop herd...we want them infected..."

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Both Alexander and Caputo resigned from their positions with the Trump administration.

The subcommittee interviewed editors and staff from the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and other scientific publications and found that Alexander and Caputo tried to meddle with articles and "shelve" publication of articles that showed the virus was spreading, with the cooperation of Redfield, the letter said.

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In one instance, Alexander demanded that an article about a superspreader event at a Georgia summer camp be altered so the findings removed any suggestion that data might be used to evaluate whether schools should re-open. Alexander demanded that another article in the MMWR be altered or that the CDC stop publishing the journal altogether. The editor testified that Redfield advised her to "delete this email."

Caputo also was enraged when a senior CDC scientist spoke to NPR in July about how the agency would no longer update hospital data, and bullied the communications staff in emails saying they would "be held accountable," the letter said.

The letter said chiefs of the HHS and CDC have dragged their feet on appearing before the committee and have been inadequate in producing documents, and even including documents that had nothing to do with COVID-19 in a document request. The subpoenas require the agencies to produce a "full and unredacted set" of documents by Dec. 30.

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