Updated Aug 24, 2022 - Health

House COVID panel documents Trump pressure campaign on FDA

Former Trump White House Advisor Peter Navarro. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Trump White House coordinated a pressure campaign for the FDA to authorize the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to fight COVID-19 after it was shown to be ineffective and potentially dangerous, a new House investigative report charges.

Why it matters: The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Response report, citing newly released documents and interviews with officials including ex-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, offers more evidence of political tactics targeting the coronavirus response, including blocking guidance on vaccines and the role of Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro.

What they found: Navarro and Steven Hatfill, an outside advisor on the COVID response, coordinated with representatives at the Henry Ford Health System on a July 2020 request from the health system to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine while obscuring the White House’s involvement. The FDA denied the request.

  • Navarro and Hatfill courted outside groups and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to apply pressure on FDA officials while coordinating with officials including White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and conducting official business on private email accounts.
  • Hatfill advocated for launching federal investigations into public health officials who opposed hydroxychloroquine.
  • Trump political officials also blocked FDA COVID vaccine guidance that called for at least two months of surveillance data, because of concerns it would keep the FDA from authorizing a vaccine before the presidential election. The FDA subsequently released informal briefing materials instead.
  • The pressure also included President Trump expressing dismay over “roadblocks” to the FDA’s authorizing of convalescent plasma as a treatment, after NIH officials raised concerns about insufficient efficacy data.

Henry Ford Health System said in a statement it would launch an investigation after reviewing the report. "Like other health systems, we participated in a number of studies and clinical trials, including for hydroxychloroquine, during a time when there were no known treatments for COVID-19," the statement said, adding the study and use of the drug were suspended when it was deemed an ineffective treatment.

  • A spokesperson for Johnson said in a statement the findings were an attempt to smear the senator's "good faith attempts to promote early treatment" and "another example of how the COVID cartel is doing everything it can to absolve themselves of accountability for the lives lost and destroyed."

Flashback: Axios first chronicled the fight within the White House over hydroxychloroquine that pitted Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

  • Former President Trump’s enthusiasm for hydroxycholoroquine sparked a run on the drug, but repeated trials showed it had little or no effect preventing illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19.

What we're watching: As Democrats chronicle how the Trump administration put politics over science, congressional Republicans are laying the groundwork for their own probes of the coronavirus response if they flip control of one or both houses of Congress.

  • Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) on Tuesday called on HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to preserve all records and information related to NIAID Director Anthony Fauci and former NIH Director Francis Collins.
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