On Monday, American Oversight filed an amended complaint against the Department of Health and Human Services to compel the release of text messages sent or received by senior officials involved in the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response.
In November, American Oversight sued HHS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration, asking them to produce senior administration officials’ text messages related to Covid-19. We have previously received documents under the Freedom of Information Act that provided us reason to believe that additional senior officials, including leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also used text messages to communicate about the pandemic response. Today’s filing adds the CDC as a defendant and expands the list of officials to include former CDC Director Robert Redfield and former CDC Chief of Staff Kyle McGowan, as well as former Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir.
The amended complaint came after the CDC provided contradictory responses to two of American Oversight’s earlier FOIA requests. In October, the CDC had responded to a request and claimed it had no records of text messages sent or received by then-Director Redfield related to the Covid-19 response. But in late November, the CDC produced records indicating that Redfield had communicated about the pandemic with deputies via text messages, including having received at least one such message from CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat.
American Oversight also obtained copies of emails sent by Giroir providing his phone number and suggesting that other executive branch officials working on the Covid-19 response could contact him by text message. We subsequently submitted a FOIA request to HHS seeking all text messages sent or received by Giroir regarding the Covid-19 response, but as of today, the department has not produced responsive records.
“In late summer and early fall, the Trump administration was doing everything within its power to convince the public that the pandemic would end momentarily, even as it botched efforts to contain the uncontrolled spread of the virus,” said Austin Evers, executive director at American Oversight. “The scope of the moral and logistical failure is hard to comprehend and will take years to fully understand. We are fighting for the public’s right to any piece of evidence that might shed light on what went wrong and who was responsible.”
American Oversight’s amended complaint seeks to compel HHS, the FDA, CMS, and the CDC to comply with the law and produce all responsive records to American Oversight’s requests. Under FOIA, all nonexempt communications regarding official government business, including communications conducted over text, are subject to public release.
More information on American Oversight’s investigation into the Covid-19 response is available here.
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