May 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Emails obtained by AP contradict White House line on CDC reopening guidance

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while flanked by Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

President Trump speaks while flanked by CDC Director Robert Redfield. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on a report detailing guidelines for the nation's reopening — despite White House officials' insistence it was not cleared — according to emails obtained by the AP.

Why it matters: The mixed messaging is more evidence of the struggle between the CDC, which typically handles public health crises, and the White House coronavirus task force, which the president has made clear will shift its focus to reopening the country.

  • "The re-opening guidance shared prematurely was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.
  • "This is an iterative effort to ensure effective, clear guidance is presented to the American people. I had not seen a version of the guidance incorporating interagency and task force input and therefore was not yet comfortable releasing a final work product,” he added.

Background: As Axios and several other media outlets reported on Thursday, the White House shelved a CDC report including new guidance for reopening schools, restaurants, bars and other organizations.

  • A task force official had told Axios that the guidance, which the White House felt was "overly prescriptive," was never cleared by CDC leadership, and that the task force first saw the CDC report when it was leaked to the press.
  • The official said the White House asked the CDC to "revise" its guidance, but never received an amended copy.
  • On Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated to reporters that CDC leadership, including Redfield, did not approve the report.
  • "I would ask you, you know, what’s the definition of CDC guidelines? Is it something that the CDC director has actually seen? ... No, those aren’t CDC guidelines; those are guidelines in draft form that a rogue employee has given you," McEnany said.

Driving the news: The emails obtained by the AP reveal that Redfield had in fact cleared the guidance, and that as early as April 10, Redfield, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, shared the guidelines with top White House advisers — including Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway and Joseph Grogan.

  • Deborah Birx, Anthony Fauci and other members of the task force also received the guidance, per the AP.

The emails also show that, following reporting that the CDC guidance had been shelved, "the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval," the AP writes.

  • The AP notes that the 17-page CDC document obtained by several media outlets, including Axios, was just a smaller preview of the more comprehensive 60-page report, which was ultimately sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for review — a step that is normally only taken when a document is close to final approval.
  • One email, written by Redfield and sent to Birx and Grogan, said: "We plan to post these to CDC’s website once approved. Peace, God bless r3. (Redfield’s initials are R.R.R., the AP notes).

The latest: The documents show that the CDC inquired for several days about the status of the guidance, but it was ultimately killed. An OMB official told the CDC that the administration had "given strict and explicit direction that these documents are not yet cleared and cannot go out as of right now," per the AP.

This story has been updated to reflect a new statement from CDC Director Robert Redfield.

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