A House oversight panel found former President Donald Trump and his administration routinely undermined efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic last year, prolonging a deadly public health disaster in the hopes of winning an election he eventually lost.
The conclusion was part of a 46-page report released Friday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The report collated documents that had largely been released in the preceding months, including documents showing that the Trump administration prevented public officials from giving public briefings on the virus and attempted to play down the importance of testing.
But it also showed the Trump administration’s malfeasance throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in new ways, including the ways they infuriated public health officials who felt they couldn’t do their jobs.
Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the panel how he felt the directive to change mask guidance for churchgoers in May 2020 may have put them at unnecessary risk. He wrote in one email that he felt “very troubled… that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do.”
The beleaguered COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, also attempted to express her frustration with the administration’s lack of effort. She said she refused to participate in a meeting with a “fringe groups” of officials who pushed the idea of herd immunity.
“These are people who believe that all the curves are predetermined and mitigation is irrelevant—they are a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground common sense experience,” she wrote in an August 2020 email to Marc Short, the then-chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. “I am happy to go out of town or whatever gives the WH cover.”
Birx also told the committee that Dr. Scott Atlas, the conspiracy theorist turned Trump adviser, worked to change guidance to avoid testing asymptomatic individuals exposed to COVID-19—even though it contradicted the science surrounding the virus.
The committee said these and other examples proved the Trump administration placed a heightened focus on its policies’ political impact over public health effects, resulting in a “pattern of political interference” that put lives in jeopardy. More than 800,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
“These decisions placed countless American lives at risk, undermined the nation’s public health institutions, and contributed to one of the worst failures of leadership in American history,” it wrote.