Updated Dec 21, 2020 - Health

House panel subpoenas HHS and CDC heads over claims of political interference

Azar and Redfield

Azar (L) with Redfield (R) at a January press conference. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chair of the select subcommittee responsible for overseeing the coronavirus crisis, has subpoenaed HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC director Robert Redfield to produce documents related to claims of political interference at the CDC.

Driving the news: In a letter to Azar and Redfield, Clyburn released new evidence showing that HHS and CDC officials altered 13 scientific reports between May through September, at times delaying the publication of a crucial peer-reviewed journal on the coronavirus.

  • The editor-in-chief of the CDC's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report," Charlotte Kent, told Congress that in a report on an outbreak in a Georgia summer camp, a CDC official instructed her to remove language that contradicted guidance to reopen schools.
  • Clyburn's letter also claims that "unprecedented efforts to influence CDC’s reports and bully its staff" occurred during a time that HHS was privately pushing "herd immunity," a strategy that experts say would likely cause widespread fatalities.

What they're saying: "The subpoenas were necessary because the Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known," Clyburn wrote. "HHS has made clear that it will not provide a timely and complete response to the Select Subcommittee’s requests on a voluntary basis."

Background: Earlier this month, Kent told Congress she was instructed to delete an email that showed the Trump administration wanted to change language in a previously published scientific report. Kent said she understood the directive had come from Redfield.

The other side:

“Dr. Charlotte Kent’s testimony shows there was no political interference in the MMWR process. The Administration is leading an unprecedented nationwide vaccination effort in response to a global pandemic and has been extremely cooperative with the Subcommittee – providing over 14,000 pages of documents over the last five weeks and making the Editor-in-Chief of CDC’s MMWRs, Dr. Kent, available for an interview. While the Administration is focused on vaccination shots, the Subcommittee is focused on cheap shots to create headlines and mislead the American people.”
— HHS spokesperson

Read the full letter.

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