The House panel investigating the federal coronavirus response called on the Biden administration Monday to provide scores of documents from the previous administration as it continues to probe political influence on public health guidance issued under the Trump administration.
In letters to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and the Department of Health and Human Services, chair of the committee Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) also described new documents that he said illustrate attempts by HHS appointees to limit testing in favor of reopening.
The letter then calls on the White House and HHS to provide documents and communication related to the previous administration’s COVID response, including reports from the Task Force, information on testing, vaccines and other White House plans, especially from political appointees.
The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis began investigating the COVID response in April 2020. They previously subpoenaed former HHS Secretary Alex Azar and and former CDC Director Robert Redfield after obtaining documents that they say showed HHS officials tried to interfere with CDC guidance.
The Trump administration did not comply with those subpoenas and other requests for information at the time.
In Monday’s letter, the committee includes more emails from Dr. Paul Alexander, a former senior adviser at HHS who the House panel previously said tried to interfere with scientific guidance by urging revisions to CDC reports.
In emails released by the committee in December, Alexander encouraged a strategy of herd immunity and letting younger, less vulnerable Americans be infected by the virus, a dangerous theory that experts say would lead to many more deaths.
The new letter shows that Alexander supported a CDC decision to issue guidance that discouraged testing of asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus, despite evidence that the virus was spreading easily among people without symptoms. Experts balked at the CDC guidance at the time.
In an email, Alexander wrote that testing asymptomatic people would “prevent the workforce from working” and delay reopening.
“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,” Clyburn wrote in Monday’s letter.
“[The committee] is continuing these critical investigations 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.”
The House panel is also looking into the withholding of weekly state COVID reports produced by the Coronavirus Task Force led by former Vice President Mike Pence. The previous administration required states to request the reports each week, but the Biden administration has now made them public.
In a statement to Spectrum News Monday, a White House spokesperson said they were reviewing Rep. Clyburn’s letter.
“We appreciate Chairman Clyburn and the Select Subcommittee’s diligent work to help ensure an effective, science-driven pandemic response on the part of the United States government,” the spokesperson said.
“The White House is focused on vaccinating the U.S. population efficiently and equitably and slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
HHS did not immediately respond to Spectrum News’ request for comment.