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Reporter On Allegations Of Political Interference At CDC

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

New details revealed today from closed-door testimony are raising questions about political interference at the CDC. Democratic Congressman James Clyburn said today that a career CDC employee told lawmakers on Monday that she had received a directive, one she understood had come from CDC Director Robert Redfield. That directive ordered her to destroy an email that came from a Trump appointee. The email was a demand to juice data that supposedly made President Trump look bad. For more on these allegations, we're joined now by Politico's Dan Diamond.

Welcome.

DAN DIAMOND: Ailsa, thanks for having me back.

CHANG: So tell us more about this woman who made these allegations. And where did she make them, exactly?

DIAMOND: The woman who spoke to the committee is Charlotte Kent. She's editor of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. These are sacred texts in the scientific community. They come out regularly with updates on the agency's findings. There have been a lot of updates on coronavirus this year, understandably, and she made these comments to House investigators on Monday as part of a larger probe that the committee is doing into the coronavirus response. After her comments, the probe was somewhat put on pause because the Trump administration did not make other officials available.

CHANG: Oh, interesting. OK, so we're getting all of this through Democratic Congressman James Clyburn. What exactly is he saying?

DIAMOND: What Congressman Clyburn is saying is that Charlotte Kent told the committee that the email sent by a Trump appointee named Paul Alexander, an email that we reported on in Politico about three months ago - instructing the agency to essentially hand over control of these morbidity and mortality reports to Trump appointees, to political appointees in the public affairs shop - that Kent told the committee not only did Dr. Redfield make - go along with efforts to have these emails be sent but that Dr. Redfield wanted the email to be deleted - that when she went to look for it in her own inbox, she couldn't find it.

CHANG: And has Robert Redfield, the CDC director - has he responded to any of these allegations so far?

DIAMOND: Dr. Redfield put out a statement through the department that he did not - he didn't say whether he wanted anyone to delete it. He did say he wanted staff to ignore the email. So I've asked directly - haven't gotten any confirmation about whether he said to delete the email or not.

CHANG: OK. Now, are these the first allegations that we are hearing about political interference at the CDC? I mean, and if not, have other allegations been proven true about political interference?

DIAMOND: Ailsa, these are definitely not the first allegations about political interference. This has been going on all year. And specifically, the gentleman who sent the email, Paul Alexander - The Washington Post's Lena Sun wrote about this in the summer. My colleague Sarah Owermohle at Politico had a story about how Paul Alexander was trying to muzzle Tony Fauci, who's not at the CDC but also a top scientific appointee.

There have been consistent efforts and battles between people at the CDC and at the White House in the broader health department. People at the White House have been convinced that the career scientists at the CDC were working against Donald Trump and trying to make the pandemic seem worse than it was. I should hasten to add there's no evidence that that was the case.

CHANG: Dan Diamond investigates health care, politics and policy at Politico.

Thank you very much.

DIAMOND: Ailsa, thank you.

CHANG: And we have reached out to the CDC and Dr. Redfield for comment but have not yet received a response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.