Politically appointed members of the Department of Health and Human Services’ communications teams were allowed to review, change and delay reports authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a bombshell report published by Politico late Friday.
The Politico report said that the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a public report compiled by scientists that’s served as the key communication avenue between the CDC and health care providers, researchers, journalists and the public since the 1980s, has been tinkered with when CDC findings didn’t align with President Donald Trump’s public statements about coronavirus.
ABC News has not independently confirmed the Politico report.
“[The assistant secretary for public affairs] clears virtually all public-facing documents for all of its divisions, including CDC,” Michael Caputo, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed to ABC News.
“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no scientific or medical background, said in a statement.
According to Politico, in one instance, Caputo and his team pushed to retroactively adjust CDC reports that they said inflated the risk of COVID-19. The critique, in the communication team’s opinion, was that the CDC reports did not explicitly point out that Americans with COVID-19 could have become infected because of their own behavior, according to the Politico story.
In another instance, Caputo’s team tried to slow down a CDC report on hydroxychloroquine, the controversial malaria drug that Trump frequently referenced as a potential COVID-19 treatment during press briefings. A report about hydroxychloroquine that said “the potential benefits of these drugs do not outweigh their risks” was withheld for roughly a month while the team investigated the CDC author’s political leanings, according to Politico.
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Several CDC staff members told ABC News they were infuriated to learn Caputo’s team made attempts to revise the weekly reports in ways inconsistent with science, something they would have previously thought not possible.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden weighed in on the Politico report via his campaign manager.
“When Donald Trump told Bob Woodward that he wanted to downplay the virus, this is the exact kind of repugnant betrayal that he meant,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in a statement.
“This report is further proof that the Trump Administration has been systematically putting political optics ahead of the safety of the American people,” she added. “Trump’s failure has left us with 6 million infected, millions more unemployed, and the worst outbreak in the developed world. We deserve so much better.”
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