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
President Donald Trump bragged that he protected Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from congressional scrutiny after the brutal assassination of the American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. […]
Woodward wrote that Trump called him on January 22 shortly after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During the conversation, Woodward pressed the president about Khashoggi’s gruesome murder. […]
“The people at the Post are upset about the Khashoggi killing,” Woodward told Trump on January 22, his book says. “That is one of the most gruesome things. You yourself have said.”
“Yeah, but Iran is killing 36 people a day, so —” Trump began, before Woodward redirected the conversation and continued to press Trump about MBS’s role in ordering Khashoggi’s killing.
“I saved his ass,” Trump had said amid the US outcry following Khashoggi’s murder, the book says. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”
September 10, 2020
In early July the Department of Homeland Security withheld publication of an intelligence bulletin warning law enforcement agencies of a Russian scheme to promote “allegations about the poor mental health” of former Vice President Joe Biden, according to internal emails and a draft of the document obtained by ABC News.
The draft bulletin, titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” was submitted to the agency’s legislative and public affairs office for review on July 7. The analysis was not meant for public consumption, but it was set to be distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement partners two days later, on July 9, the emails show.
Just one hour after its submission, however, a senior DHS official intervened.
“Please hold on sending this one out until you have a chance to speak to [acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf],” wrote DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis, according to an email obtained by ABC News.
That was nearly two months ago. But the bulletin was never circulated.
September 2, 2020
Melania Trump regularly used a private Trump Organization email account, an email from a MelaniaTrump.com domain, iMessage and the encrypted messaging app Signal while in the White House, according to her former senior adviser and close friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who says she corresponded multiple times a day with the first lady. “Melania and I both didn’t use White House emails,” says Winston Wolkoff, in an interview with The Washington Post, upon the publication of her tell-all memoir, “Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady.”
The Post has viewed messages dated after the inauguration that appear to be from private email and messaging accounts used by Melania Trump. The messages contained discussions of government hires and contracts (including Winston Wolkoff’s), detailed schedules for the president and first lady during the Israeli and Japanese state visits, strategic partnerships for the first lady’s Be Best initiative, the logistics of the Easter egg roll, and finances for the presidential inauguration, key parts of which Winston Wolkoff, an experienced New York City events producer, planned.
September 1, 2020