Top White House officials buried CDC report, documents show
GAINESVILLE — The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.
The trove of emails show the nation's top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.
The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.
This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.
As early as April 10, Redfield, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, shared via email the guidance and decision trees with President Donald Trump's inner circle, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, top adviser Kellyanne Conway and Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy. Also included were Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other task force members.
Three days later, CDC’s upper management sent the more than 60-page report with attached flow charts to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a step usually taken only when agencies are seeking final White House approval for documents they have already cleared.
The 17-page version later released by the AP and other news outlets was only part of the actual document submitted by the CDC, and targeted specific facilities like bars and restaurants. The AP obtained a copy Friday of the full document. That version is a more universal series of phased guidelines, “Steps for All Americans in Every Community,” geared to advise communities as a whole on testing, contact tracing and other fundamental infection control measures.
Redfield weighed in publicly for the first time Saturday, issuing a statement that apparently contradicts his internal emails, and supports the White House assertion that he had not formally approved the guidance.
He said in the statement that the CDC guidance was in draft form and had not been vetted fully. “This is an iterative effort to ensure effective, clear guidance is presented to the American people. I had not seen a version of the guidance incorporating interagency and task force input and therefore was not yet comfortable releasing a final work product.”
But on April 24, Redfield again emailed the guidance documents to Birx and Grogan, according to a copy viewed by The AP. Redfield asked Birx and Grogan for their review so that the CDC could post the guidance publicly. Attached to Redfield’s email were the guidance documents and the corresponding decision trees — including one for meat packing plants.