CDC Official Says She Was Told to Delete Email on Kids' Covid-19 Risk to Match Trump's School Reopening Message
"Federal employees have affirmative obligations to preserve documents, and destruction of federal records is potentially illegal," warned Rep. James Clyburn.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allegedly ordered agency staff to delete an email sent by a political appointee of President Donald Trump seeking to alter a scientific report on corovanirus health risks in children, a CDC official told Congress this week.
The Hillreports Charlotte Kent, the CDC official responsible for the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs), told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in a transcribed interview on Monday that she was instructed to delete an email regarding Covid-19 risk to young people.
The August 8, 2020 email (pdf) was sent by Paul Alexander, the former science adviser to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo. According to Kent, it concerned an effort to interfere in a CDC report on Covid-19 risks to children and teens during the period when President Donald Trump was pushing school districts across the nation to reopen.
"I was instructed to delete the email," Kent said, adding that she found the directive "very unusual." Kent added she was told the order to destroy the evidence came from CDC Director Robert Redfield, although she said she did not speak directly with him about the matter.
When Kent went to delete the email, she found it was already gone; although she said she did not know who deleted it.
\u201c#NEW: A @CDCgov career scientist told @COVIDOversight they were instructed to delete an email regarding political interference.\n\nWe demand the Department end its stonewalling; Dir. Redfield & @HHSgov Sec. Azar must comply with @COVIDOversight's investigation. #EndTheInterference\u201d— Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis (@Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis) 1607616829
In a Thursday letter to Redfield and his boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Rep. James Clyburn, (D-S.C.), the subcommittee chair, voiced his "serious concern about what may be deliberate efforts by the Trump administration to conceal and destroy evidence that senior political appointees interfered with career officials' response to the coronavirus crisis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
"Federal employees have affirmative obligations to preserve documents, and destruction of federal records is potentially illegal," Clyburn warned. "Federal law also provides for up to three years of imprisonment for willful destruction of federal records."
\u201cDeleting government emails is a red flag and can be illegal. When the email in question was from a Trump appointee seeking to exert political influence over the CDC's scientific reports, that raises even more questions. Preserving records is not optional.\nhttps://t.co/teXvgdqVAE\u201d— Noah Bookbinder (@Noah Bookbinder) 1607630700
Kent also told the subcommittee that the CDC postponed the release of a report on a Covid-19 outbreak at a summer camp in Georgia until after Redfield appeared before Congress on July 31 to promote the administration's desired school reopenings.
Alexander, who no longer works at HHS, joined the agency in late March and took a leading role in controlling its coronavirus messaging to reflect Trump's downplaying of the pandemic threats. In September, he tried to prevent Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, from publicly speaking about the risk of the virus to children.