The Slatest

Trump Health Appointees Reportedly Edit CDC Reports to Fit White House Message

Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office on May 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office on May 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

For decades, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were seen as decidedly uncontroversial. Written by careers scientists the reports are a key way for the agency to transmit information to doctors, researchers and the public at large. Recently, it had become a way to give reliable, up-to-date information about the spread of Covid-19 across the country. But all that changed in April, when Michael Caputo, a Trump ally with no scientific background, was named spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, reports Politico. Caputo and his allies at the CDC have taken lots of effort to make sure the CDC reports are in line with what the White House has been communicating about the virus.

Caputo, a former Trump campaign official, and his allies have repeatedly tried to “add caveats” to the CDC reports, according to Politico, noting that there was a particular effort to retroactively change reports that they say exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus on the population. Caputo and his team repeatedly accused the CDC’s scientists of trying to make Trump look bad and hurt the administration.

The former campaign official saw everything through such a partisan lens that he sometimes tried to investigate the political leanings of those who wrote a report that was seen as particularly unfavorable for the administration. For example, a report on hydroxychloroquine was held for around a month as Caputo raised questions about the political affiliations of the authors.

Although CDC officials have pushed back on efforts to retroactively change reports they have increasingly stood to one side a Caputo and his team review new reports before they are published. Part of the reason for that may simply be resignation as Caputo’s influence within the CDC grew after he was able to get one of his allies installed as an interim chief of staff. When Caputo was asked about this review, he characterized it as a noble effort to protect Americans. “Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic—not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” he said.