Several Trump administration health officials tasked with tackling the COVID-19 pandemic say they were marginalized by the White House and felt pressured not to speak candidly about the virus to the media.
They painted a picture of an administration that took the coronavirus lightly, could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths, and interfered with scientific work for what they said was political reasons.
What You Need To Know
- Several Trump administration health officials tasked with tackling the COVID-19 pandemic say they were marginalized by the White House and felt pressured not to speak candidly about the virus to the media
- In a CNN special report, they painted a picture of an administration that took the virus lightly, could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths and interfered with scientific work for political reasons
- Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the Trump White House, claimed that the U.S. could have dramatically reduced its death toll if the administration had acted earlier and more decisively
- The former heads of the CDC and FDA both alleged political interference by Alex Azar, the former secretary of Health and Human Services
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the Trump White House, said in the CNN documentary “COVID War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out” that the U.S. could have dramatically reduced its death toll if the administration had acted earlier and more decisively.
“I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse,” Birx told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
As of Monday morning, more than 549,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
Birx said “the majority of the people in the White House did not take this seriously” and that there is “no question” she was marginalized “every day.”
After she gave a CNN interview in August in which she warned that Americans needed to take strict precautions because the virus was “extraordinarily widespread,” Birx says she received a "very uncomfortable" and "very difficult" phone call directly from then-President Donald Trump, she said.
“He felt very strongly that I misrepresented the pandemic in the United States, that I made it out to be much worse than it is,” she said. “I feel like I didn’t even make it out as bad as it was.”
Birx said Trump told her at the time the U.S. “will never shut the country down again.”
In response to Birx’s allegations, Trump senior adviser Jason Miller tweeted Sunday: “If only Dr. Birx had been in government, or had a public platform to share her views, it all could have been so very different.”
In a separate tweet early Monday, Miller added: “Also notable that Joe Biden didn’t re-hire Dr. Birx the way he did Dr. [Anthony] Fauci.”
Fauci, the longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who also now serves as chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told CNN that Trump’s calls last April on Twitter to “liberate” states such as Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia from their lockdowns “hit me like a punch in the chest.”
“It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do,” Fauci said.
There were other explosive allegations made in the CNN documentary.
Brett Giroir, the nation’s coronavirus testing czar, admitted the administration repeatedly lied to the public in March 2020 when it said anyone who wanted a test could get one.
“When we said there were millions of tests available, there weren’t, right?” Giroir said. “There were components of the test available, but not the full meal deal.”
The former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration both alleged political interference by Alex Azar, the former secretary of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Robert Redfield, who was the CDC director, claimed Azar personally intervened to try to change the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports that political officials didn’t like.
“I was on more than one occasion called by the secretary and his leadership, directing me to change the MMWR,” Redfield said. “He may deny that, but it’s true.”
Azar has indeed denied the claim, and several former senior HHS staff said in a joint statement that the former secretary and his deputies “always regarded the MMWR as sacrosanct,” The Washington Post reported.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the former FDA commissioner, said his relationship with Azar became “strained” after HHS stripped Hahn’s agency of the ability to regulate some COVID-19 tests, calling it a “line in the sand” that put people at risk.
“There is definitely that sort of pressure … ,” Hahn said. “At the end of the day, someone’s trying to ask me to do something that I don’t think is right.”
Azar told CNN that he disputed Hahn’s recollection of the conversation.
In a lengthy statement released through his office Monday night, Trump called Birx and Fauci “two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned.”
“They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccines--putting millions of lives at risk,” Trump said.
This article was updated to include Trump's response.