Trump officials attacked CDC reports on coronavirus, downplayed COVID-19 threat, House probe finds

Political appointees in the outgoing administration of Donald Trump repeatedly interfered in more than a dozen government reports detailing scientific findings about the spread of COVID-19, a House investigation panel reported Monday.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said investigators found evidence of a "political pressure campaign" to "bully" professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and says the pattern of behavior may have been a coordinated attempt to "cripple the nation's coronavirus response in a misguided effort to achieve herd immunity."

Alex Azar is one of the figures at the center of this alleged coverup.

From the Associated Press:

The committee's topline findings were detailed in a 20-page letter to Azar and Redfield that centered on the actions of two political appointees earlier this year at HHS. New York political operative and Trump loyalist Michael Caputo was installed as the department's top spokesman during a period of high tension between White House officials and Azar. Caputo brought health researcher Paul Alexander with him as an adviser. Both men have since left the agency.

But for months, the letter alleges, they waged a campaign to block or change articles on the COVID-19 pandemic in a CDC publication called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR, which is closely followed by the public health community.

Investigators said the campaign:

— Sought to block or change more than a dozen MMWR articles, sometimes succeeding in getting changes to draft language and at other times delaying publication as internal arguments raged.

— Intensely challenged articles that detailed scientific findings on the spread of COVID-19 among children. This came during a time when President Donald Trump was adamantly urging a return to in-person schooling in the fall. Those included reports about outbreaks in summer camps, data on hospitalization rates among children, and findings about a dangerous condition called "multi-inflammatory syndrome," which afflicts some children who get sick from the coronavirus.

__ Attacked a draft MMWR article showing a jump in prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that Trump embraced early on as a "game changer" only to ultimately learn it could do more harm than good. HHS even went so far as to draft an op-ed rebutting the CDC article, although it was never published. The op-ed accused the MMWR authors of trying to grab headlines, calling them a "disgrace to public service."

More at the Associated Press: Probe: Trump officials attacked CDC virus reports (reporting by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR)