Democrats Seek Interviews to Better Understand Possible Political Interference in Early Coronavirus Response


Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis are seeking interviews with 11 current and former government officials as they continue to investigate the federal government’s coronavirus response and alleged political interference during the Trump administration. 

“Today, Chairman James E. Clyburn and all Democratic members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis advanced their investigations into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic by requesting documents and transcribed interviews from three former Trump administration political appointees and eight current and former public health officials who were involved in the prior administration’s failed response efforts,” said a press release issued on Monday morning. “These requests come amid the release of an updated staff analysis documenting at least 88 incidents of the Trump administration’s political interference in the coronavirus response, including 27 incidents that have been identified since the Select Subcommittee’s previous analysis in October 2020.” 

The select subcommittee sent letters to the following former Trump appointees: Amanda Campbell, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] deputy chief of staff; Kyle McGowan, former CDC chief of staff; and Nina Witkofsky, a former CDC acting chief of staff and senior advisor. Letters also went to former career officials Dr. Nancy Messonnier, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, former CDC principal deputy director. 

Messonnier, a career official who resigned from her position in May, was the first U.S. official to warn about the novel coronavirus last year and was met with resistance from Trump officials. Trump threatened to fire Messonnier after she warned in February 2020 of the possible risks from the coronavirus and that Americans should be prepared that it could get bad, according to The Wall Street Journal, 

“Given the senior position you held at CDC and your involvement in key areas of the pandemic response, you likely have material information relevant to the Select Subcommittee’s investigation,” said the letter addressed to her. Some of these topics include: early monitoring and response to the pandemic, why the CDC’s early tests failed, the scale and impact of political interference at the public health agencies, data collection methods and “any adverse employment action taken or considered against any employee, official or contractor of the federal government for actions taken in the course of their employment related to the coronavirus.”

As for current officials, the lawmakers sent a letter to the Health and Human Services Department secretary and CDC director requesting interviews with: Jay Butler, CDC deputy director of infectious diseases; Christine Casey, editor of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; Kate Galatas, CDC deputy director for communications; Bill Hall, HHS deputy assistant secretary for public affairs; Michael Iademarco, director of CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services; and Mark Weber, HHS deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.

“Career officials at CDC and HHS were actively involved in matters under investigation by the Select Subcommittee and likely possess material information relevant to the Select Subcommittee’s investigation,” said the letter. “Our public health institutions must never again be compromised by decision makers more concerned with politics than keeping Americans safe.”

The letters do not imply that career officials did anything nefarious, but rather outline that the lawmakers seek to know what they were possibly forced to do and/or saw during the Trump administration. 

HHS and the CDC did not respond for comment on the letter. 

The Democratic lawmakers selected dates between late August and early September for the transcribed interviews of the current and former officials. 

“Democrats continue to politicize the Select Subcommittee by looking backward instead of forward to protect Americans,” a Republican spokesperson for the Select Subcommittee told Government Executive in a statement. “They refuse to investigate the origins of COVID-19, which would help us prepare for future pandemics, as well as the Biden border crisis that is allowing COVID-19 positive migrants to pour into our country. The Select Subcommittee’s time would be better spent investigating issues facing Americans now.”

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