“Yippee!!!”: Emails Show Trump Appointees Celebrating Lying to the Public About COVID-19

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In February 2020, Donald Trump took some time away from his busy schedule of watching multiple hours of TV a day and insisting the coronavirus was fake news to have a little chat with journalist Bob Woodward. Naturally, one of the things they discussed was the very scary virus that had gained a foothold in the United States. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said during a February 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” he said, repeating for emphasis, “This is deadly stuff.” Of course, at the time, Trump had been actively telling the country that COVID-19 was not at all a big deal, that it wasn’t as bad as the flu, that it would “miraculously” go away on its own by April, and that anyone suggesting otherwise was a liar and a fraud. Then in March, a week after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Trump had another conversation with Woodward, in which he admitted something else: that he had been purposely lying to the public about the highly contagious virus the whole time. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said.

Given that the literal leader of the free world is on the record copping to lying about COVID-19—which killed 400,000 on his watch—it’s not entirely surprising to learn that his foot soldiers in the federal government did everything they could to mislead the public as well. But it’s still colossally messed up and something that should follow them around for the rest of their careers, hence this important report from The Washington Post:

Trump appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services last year privately touted their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus to more closely align with then president Donald Trump’s more optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators. 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 was attempting to blunt the scientists’ messages, edit their findings, and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points.

Then science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to then HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, 2020, touting two examples of where he said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had bowed to his pressure and changed language in their reports, according to an email obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Pointing to one change—in which CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about the 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!!!”

In the same email, Alexander excitedly referenced another example of a change to a weekly report from the CDC that he bragged the agency had made thanks to his demands. Two days later, he asked then White House adviser Scott Atlas—the guy who wanted the U.S. to adopt a “herd immunity” strategy by letting millions get the virus on purpose—to help him discredit a forthcoming CDC report on COVID-19-related deaths among young people. “Can you help me craft an op-ed,” Alexander wrote to Atlas on September 11, claiming the report was “timed for the election” to hurt Trump, as though that was the priority of the scientists at the agency. “Let us advise the President and get permission to preempt this please for it will run for the weekend so we need to blunt the edge as it is misleading.”

Alexander and other officials also strategized on how to help Trump argue to reopen the economy in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, despite scientists’ warnings about the potential risks.

“I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening. We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!” Caputo wrote to Alexander on May 16, 2020, in an email obtained by the subcommittee.

“You need to take ownership of these numbers. This is singularly important to what you and I want to achieve,” Caputo added in a follow-up email, urging Alexander to compile additional data on the consequences of virus-related shutdowns. Atlas, Alexander, and Caputo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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