April 9, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Senior Trump administration officials sabotaged public understanding of the covid. Drag ’em
We must demand some kind of justice.
The select subcommittee in the United States House of Representatives that is now investigating how the federal government managed the country’s response to the covid pandemic released emails Thursday showing top officials in the Trump administration knowingly, carefully and deliberately sabotaged public understanding of the disease.
According to the Post’s Dan Diamond, “The documents provide further insight into how senior Trump officials approached last year’s explosion of coronavirus cases in the United States. Even as career government scientists worked to combat the virus, a cadre of Trump appointees were attempting to blunt the scientists’ messages, edit their findings and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points.”
Diamond’s story is about “political interference” in what should have been the neutral administration of public health policy in the face of a once-a-century plague. That framing of the issue will likely be adopted by the Washington pundit corps. That framing has already been adopted by the House investigators. “Our investigation has shown that Trump Administration officials engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly,” said House Whip Jim Clyburn, the subcommittee chair.
They did, in other words, what their boss wanted of them, which is what he’s good at. They put right-wing propaganda in the mouths of health authorities and called it “the truth.”
But while the press and investigators are right to be careful with language, the court of public opinion, which may be the only court demanding justice in the end, need not be so careful. Let’s not obscure the body-count reality of what Michael Caputo and Paul Alexander have done with gauzy abstractions like “political interference.” As of this writing, the covid has killed over 573,000 Americans. These men, along with others, including the former president, were engaged in crimes. The question shouldn’t be whether this was “political interference.” It should be whether this was homicide.
Trump-appointed officials with more background in rhetoric than in infectious disease literally rewrote public statements released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in ways that minimized the deadly risk of the covid, especially with respect to schools, and maximized the risk to the economy. They did, in other words, what their boss wanted of them, which is what he’s good at. They put right-wing propaganda in the mouths of public health authorities and called it “the truth.”
Those same authorities, including then-CDC director Robert Redfield, played along. Redfield “repeatedly claimed last year that the agency’s reports had been protected from political interference,” the Post reported. Indeed, he testified under oath to a committee in the United States Senate: “At no time has the scientific integrity of the [The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports] been compromised. And I can say that under my watch, it will not be compromised.” That was a gigantic, Janus-faced lie.
Caputo was Donald Trump’s choice to head public affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Alexander was Caputo’s hand-picked “science advisor.” If they didn’t get what they wanted, they’d undermine the CDC’s findings by writing op-eds packed with misinformation. On the one hand, they empowered lies. On the other, they kneecapped the facts and the public’s health. Diamond wrote: “Pointing to one change—where CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them—Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a ‘small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!’”
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Remember, too, that the Trump administration, all the way up to the president, knew the reality of the covid. Thanks to Bob Woodward’s reporting, we know they knew it was airborne. We know they knew it was highly contagious. We know they knew it was killing the old and the sick and the feeble. We know they knew the coronavirus had the potential of bringing the US economy to a halt. And now we know they decided anyway to sabotage public understanding of the disease. They were not only involved a scheme to commit negligent homicide. They were involved in a conspiracy to commit treason.
Will Caputo and Alexander be held accountable for this? Not likely. But that doesn’t mean the public should not demand some kind of justice. For one thing, Redfield lied under oath. That’s a crime. For another, Caputo and Alexander were communicating using government email accounts as well as personal email accounts. Crimes like that goosed the FBI into taking action before the 2016 election when it was discovered that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been using a personal email server. The FBI cleared her eventually, but not before moving heaven and earth to do it.
The FBI should move heaven and earth again, but this time, there’s much more at stake. Hillary Clinton was trying to avoid arduous security protocols required by the government. (That’s why she set up her own secure network in her basement.) Caputo and Alexander may have used their personal email accounts to avoid criminal liability. (Remember, we know they knew what they were doing and what the outcome, mass death, would be.) We should presume they’re hiding incriminating evidence of their involvement in a conspiracy leading to 573,000 dead until it’s proven they aren’t.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.