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Former CDC chief Robert Redfield (L) and former HHS Secretary Alex Azar during a press conference in Washington, D.C., last January. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Two senior members of former President Trump's White House coronavirus task force accused former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a CNN special report, broadcast Sunday, of political interference.

Driving the news: Former CDC chief Robert Redfield told CNN's Sanjay Gupta that what he was "most offended by was the calls" from Azar's office "that wanted me to pressure and change the MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on COVID-19]. He may deny that, but it's true."

  • "The one time that was the most egregious was not only was I pressured by the secretary and his office and his lawyers, but as I was driving home, his lawyer and his chief of staff called and pressured me again for at least another hour," Redfield said on CNN's "Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."
  • "Even to the point of, like, accusing me of failing to make this change that would cost, you know, thousands of lives," he continued.
  • "I finally had a moment in life where I said, you know, enough is enough. You know? If you want to fire me, fire me. I'm not changing the MMWR."

Of note: Former FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn told CNN that when Azar blocked the FDA's ability to regulate lab-developed tests, it "was a line in the sand for me," and he implied that Azar shouted at him over it.

  • When Gupta put it to Hahn that if the secretary was "screaming" at him, that's a problem.
  • "There was definitely that sort of pressure," Hahn replied.
  • "If someone's trying to ask me to do something that I don't think is right and my patient, the American people, need something different," he added, before shrugging.

Why it matters: Critics had long accused the Trump administration of intentionally downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to the American public and interfering with the CDC and other health officials, but this is the first time Redfield and Hahn have given insight into tensions with Azar.

The other side: Azar said in a statement to Axios, “From the beginning of this pandemic, I insisted on giving the public and media access to both critical information and data as soon as we had it, as well as to our scientists."

  • "I have always stood for and defended the scientific independence of the MMWR and other evidence and science-based publications and disclosures from HHS and its agencies, and Dr. Redfield knows this. Any suggestion that I pressured or otherwise asked Dr. Redfield to change the content of a single scientific, peer-reviewed MMWR article is false.”
  • On Hahn, Azar said in a statement that the FDA's illegal assertion of jurisdiction over common lab-developed tests ... slowed the development of U.S. COVID testing."
  • He added that "Hahn's recitation of this call is incorrect" and that "the only intemperate conduct" was Hahn's "threat to resign" — a threat Hahn denies making.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Azar.

Go deeper

Fauci: Trump's tweets to "LIBERATE" states "like a punch to the chest"

Trump, Fauci and Birx at the White House in March 2020. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Leading members of former President Trump's White House coronavirus task force opened up on the pressures of working in the administration in a CNN special report, broadcast Sunday.

Of note: In CNN's "COVID War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out," Anthony Fauci recalled that Trump tweeting "LIBERATE" blue states in order to push them to reopen "hit me like a punch to the chest," while Deborah Birx said "fault No.1" with the administration was it didn't "provide consistent messaging to the American people."

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

2 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.