After months of alleged stonewalling, House lawmakers in the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Monday renewed their efforts to investigate the Trump administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, requesting more documents from White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain and acting Health Secretary Norris Cochran over claims Trump appointees interfered with the work of scientists and public health officials “in order to advance President Trump’s partisan agenda.”
Having found evidence “that the previous Administration engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation’s public health response,” subcommittee chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the investigation would continue into the new Congress “in order to understand what went wrong over the last year and determine what corrective steps are necessary to control the virus and save American lives.”
In letters to Cochran and Klain, Clyburn requested documents relating to Trump appointees, noting that the White House and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had stymied the subcommittee’s previous investigations and blocked access to numerous documents and witnesses.
Trump appointees are charged with trying to suppress science for political gain, weaken and hide coronavirus task force reports, considering “a dangerous herd immunity strategy,” suppressing coronavirus testing, and interfering with vaccines and treatments.
Clyburn said Trump officials advocated for limited coronavirus testing in order to mask the true extent of the pandemic and allow businesses and schools to reopen, pointing to a “top down” directive to alter CDC guidance recommending asymptomatic people avoid testing.
Many of the House allegations center on Dr. Paul Alexander, an HHS senior advisor who “repeatedly pressed career CDC officials to change or eliminate scientific documents about the virus,” advocated for a “herd immunity” that encouraged lower risk groups to get infected, and complained that quarantining asymptomatic people was “preventing the workforce from working.”
Alexander also pushed Food and Drug Administration officials to approve the use of convalescent plasma against scientific consensus, instructing officials to disregard the dissenting opinions of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he said had “stepped out of their lane.”
Clyburn commended the Biden-Harris Administration “for taking immediate steps to devise and implement a national plan to respond to the pandemic” and for grounding it in science and committing to transparency. “This marks an urgently needed departure from the prior Administration, which refused to acknowledge the danger posed by the virus, warn the American people of the threat, advise on appropriate precautions, and mobilize a coordinated national response,” he wrote. “These investigations have shown that the previous Administration’s prioritization of politics over science and abdication of federal leadership allowed the virus to spread more rapidly, leading to devastating consequences—including more than 462,000 Americans dead, 26 million infected, and tens of millions of jobs lost.”
The Trump administration’s approach was not always grounded in scientific fact. The former president regularly promoted unproven treatments and often cited unqualified figures, despite the magnitude of infections and deaths facing the United States. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, for example, pushed a potentially dangerous drug oleandrin and Scott Atlas clashed with experts while touting misinformation about herd immunity and masks. This seemingly fed into policy, which the subcommittee said was often led by political, rather than scientific, considerations. In an interim report outlining its findings last October, the subcommittee said the administration’s response is “among the worst failures of leadership in American history” and an “American fiasco.”