The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals.
In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.
CDC officials have fought back against the most sweeping changes, but have increasingly agreed to allow the political officials to review the reports and, in a few cases, compromised on the wording, according to three people familiar with the exchanges. The communications aides’ efforts to change the language in the CDC’s reports have been constant across the summer and continued as recently as Friday afternoon.
The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department officials, and have been viewed as a cornerstone of the nation’s public health work for decades.
But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department’s new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump’s statements, including the president’s claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.
Caputo and his team have attempted to add caveats to the CDC’s findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior, according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by POLITICO.
September 11, 2020
Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said. […]
Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham – to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.
Durham is notoriously circumspect and neither he nor members of his team have revealed anything about the direction of their work. But Durham associates, none of whom have specific knowledge of the investigation, have said recently that it is their belief he is under pressure to produce something – perhaps some sort of report – before the presidential election in November.
September 11, 2020
When Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, went to a reporter’s home in November 2018 for a “Girl’s Night” thrown in her honor, taxpayers footed the bill to organize the event: $2,933.
When Verma wrote an op-ed on Fox News’ website that fall, touting President Donald Trump’s changes to Obamacare, taxpayers got charged for one consultant’s price to place it: $977.
And when consultants spent months promoting Verma to win awards like Washingtonian magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Washington” and appear on high-profile panels, taxpayers got billed for that too: more than $13,000.
The efforts were steered by Pam Stevens, a Republican communications consultant and former Trump administration official working to raise the brand of Verma, who leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The prices were the amount a consulting company billed the government for her services, based on her invoices, which were obtained by congressional Democrats.
They are among the revelations included in a sweeping congressional investigation chronicling how Verma spent more than $3.5 million on a range of GOP-connected consultants, who polished her public profile, wrote her speeches and Twitter posts, brokered meetings with high-profile individuals — and even billed taxpayers for connecting Verma with fellow Republicans in Congress.
September 10, 2020
The US Justice Department, in an extraordinary move on Tuesday, asked to take over the defense of President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll, a woman who has accused Trump of sexual assault.
While the alleged sexual assault occurred long before Trump became President, the Justice Department argued that it must take over because Trump’s comments spurring the defamation lawsuit came while he was in office. The move — defending Trump at taxpayer expense — comes amid ongoing criticism that the Justice Department has acted in the President’s personal interests. […]
The request and possible change of lawyers could further delay the lawsuit, or even kill it entirely. Should the Justice Department be allowed to take over, it could mean the end of Carroll’s lawsuit as the federal government can’t be sued for defamation, noted CNN legal analyst and University of Texas law school professor Steve Vladeck.
Trump’s denials came while he was acting in his official duties as President, the Justice Department said in court papers Tuesday.
September 9, 2020