WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of a U.S. House Oversight Committee panel on COVID-19 on Monday issued subpoenas to two top Trump administration health officials over alleged political interference in the handling of the nation’s pandemic response.
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield were ordered to produce related documents by Dec. 30, the head of the coronavirus subcommittee, U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn, said in a statement.
He said documents obtained as part of the panel’s investigation so far showed administration appointees had tried to block or alter more than one dozen scientific reports related to the novel coronavirus as the outbreak continued to grow nationwide.
“The subpoenas were necessary because the Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known,” Clyburn wrote.
President Donald Trump’s political appointees at the agency and other officials “engaged in a far-reaching campaign to influence CDC’s scientific reports, despite pushback from career staff,” and “bullied and retaliated against CDC officials for providing truthful information to the American people,” the panel said.
Representatives for the Department of Health and Human Services defended its actions during the pandemic and said it had already delivered other documents to the subcommittee.
“The Subcommittee’s document request in the subpoena schedule would encompass almost every email sent or received by a political appointee regarding COVID-19 – potentially encompassing hundreds of millions of emails,” HHS said in a statement.
The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee, dismissed Democrats’ subpoenas as “partisan antics,” and said witnesses had earlier testified that there was not political interference.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey in WashingtonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)