White House has 'complete grasp' over CDC's pandemic messaging, former officials say

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Kyle McGowan, a former CDC chief of staff, and Amanda Campbell, Mr. McGowan's former deputy, claim the Trump administration routinely interfered with the agency's pandemic response efforts this spring and summer, The New York Times reported Dec.16. 

In an interview with the Times, Mr. McGowan said the CDC's authority deteriorated as HHS and White House officials regularly requested to review the agency's COVID-19 guidance documents, sometimes arguing for less rigid guidelines in the interest of economic implications.

"Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the CDC was sidelined. It didn't happen that way," he told the Times. "It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the CDC."

Ms. Campbell was responsible for securing approval for the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and said if information in the reports didn't match the White House's messaging, they were asked to revise or in some cases delete drafts. 

"Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won," Mr. McGowan said.

Charlotte Kent, MD, editor-in-chief of the CDC's MMWR, recently told a House subcommittee that she was ordered to delete an email showing White House officials trying to meddle with one of their reports. 

A CDC spokesperson declined the Times' request to comment on Mr. Campbell and Ms. McGowan's claims. 

"All proposed guidelines and regulations with potentially sweeping effects on our economy, society and constitutional freedoms receive appropriate consultation from all stakeholders, including task force doctors, other experts and administration leaders," Brian Morgenstern, White House spokesperson, told the Times. 

Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell were both appointed in 2018 and left the CDC in August.

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