White House Control of Information During the Pandemic

Former President Trump’s early denials about the severity of Covid-19 quickly morphed into a misguided strategy of sidelining experts and exerting political control over messaging. Our investigation aims to uncover to what extent the White House interfered with coronavirus-related information in service of the president’s political interests.

During a public health crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, trust in institutions and government agencies is vital. But from the first months of the pandemic, President Donald Trump repeatedly undermined medical experts and scientists as his administration has sought to stifle and control information about the disease’s spread. Trump’s own statements — including downplaying Covid-19 as a regular flu and blaming the Obama administration — reflected what many saw as a preoccupation with the economy and his own political standing over concerns about public health.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Rep. John Garamendi told reporters that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was directed to “stand down” and to cancel five Sunday morning talk show appearances. That same day, CNN reported that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had sent a government-wide email saying that all coronavirus-related communications must go through Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, who had just taken control over the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. At the same time, the Washington Post reported that “the White House has been obsessed with a ‘communications problem.’” Questions arose about changes to a page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website and, later, about the removal of Dr. Rick Bright as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

As the number of cases drastically increased over the summer, the White House continued to take worrying actions to further divide the president and science. A senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services denounced a CDC report about risks to pregnant women as “undermining the president,” and Trump publicly criticized the CDC’s recommendations for the safe reopening of schools in the fall. In July came the alarming news that the administration had ordered hospitals to send all Covid-19 patient data to HHS instead of the CDC, igniting fears that the information could be politicized, or even withheld from the public.

Further attacks on Fauci painted a troubling picture of an administration opposed to facts, science, and expertise when they don’t serve the president’s political interests. American Oversight is examining how this aversion to inconvenient realities led to a tightening grip on data and public information, undermining efforts to combat the pandemic.

Updates

The Trump Administration’s March 2020 Covid-19 Mailers Originally Included Mask-Wearing Guidance

September 30, 2021
Emails obtained by American Oversight reveal that during early confusion about face coverings last spring, the Trump White House omitted a line about wearing masks from postcards sent to U.S. households.

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Summer Surge, Vaccine Mandates, and Masking in Schools

September 14, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our bi-weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: Warming Planet, Surging Pandemic, and Election-Undermining Reviews

August 13, 2021
It's been a busy news week, from the fast-growing U.S. surge in Covid-19 cases and the new "code red" report on global warming to news about efforts past and present to undermine the 2020 presidential election.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Surging Cases and More Vaccinations

August 9, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our biweekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Records Reveal Private-Sector Pandemic Requests from Spring 2020

July 28, 2021
In these records, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin exchanged emails with top executives at large corporations, including General Electric and Ford.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Millions Remain Unvaccinated as Delta Spreads, House Expands Investigation into Trump Administration

July 26, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our bi-weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Cases Rise, New Documents Show Conditions in ICE Detention Centers

July 19, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccinations Fall Along Partisan Lines, New CDC Guidance on Schools

July 12, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: What We Already Know About the Arizona ‘Audit’

July 1, 2021
It's already clear that any "findings" from the partisan operation will be dubious at best.

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Pandemic in Nursing Homes, Relief for Renters, and Cases Among Secret Service Officers

June 28, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Slowing Vaccine Rates, New Coronavirus Variant, and Emergent BioSolutions’ Big Year

June 21, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: From the Trump White House to Wisconsin

June 17, 2021
New emails released to Congress show the former president exerting pressure on Justice Department officials to support his baseless fraud claims. The lies haven't disappeared.

New Communications Offer Glimpse into U.S.-China Tensions Last Spring

June 15, 2021
In records obtained by American Oversight, U.S. officials discussed a Chinese official’s warning that remarks referencing the “Wuhan virus” would limit cooperation between the two countries.

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Delta Variant, Vaccine Challenges, and Covid-Spreading Deportations to Guatemala

June 14, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

In the Documents: Covid-19’s Spread in Bureau of Indian Education Schools

June 14, 2021
American Oversight has obtained detailed statistics of Covid-19 cases and deaths among employees in certain BIE schools during 2020.

Covid-19 Oversight News: 600,000 U.S. Lives Lost, Disparities in Vaccinations

June 7, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Eligibility, Covid-19 Origins, and New Pandemic Communications

June 1, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

New Records Include Private Executives’ Emails with Hahn, Kushner

May 27, 2021
American Oversight has obtained new emails from 2020 in which Trump officials fielded requests from private-sector representatives, in some cases requesting assistance from top public health officials.

Records Show Frustration at FDA as Agency Prepared to Authorize Convalescent Plasma Treatment

May 26, 2021
American Oversight has obtained records from the summer of 2020 in which FDA officials expressed frustration with scientists at the NIH days before the planned authorization of convalescent plasma as a Covid-19 treatment, a decision heavily promoted by Trump.

The Poultry Industry’s Influence on the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic

May 11, 2021
American Oversight has obtained more communications showing that last April, the poultry industry pushed the Department of Agriculture to loosen regulations, resulting in crowded working conditions in poultry plants.

New Documents Show CDC Officials Dealing with Early Covid Testing Problems

April 29, 2021
American Oversight obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents from the early months of the pandemic that illustrate the CDC’s struggles to create and implement reliable Covid-19 testing.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccinations Drop, ICE Facilities Spread the Virus, and Trump Administration Misconduct

April 26, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: Racial Justice Protests, Extremism in the Military, and the Trump Administration’s Anti-Immigration Measures

April 16, 2021
The racial justice protests that swept the nation last summer following Floyd's death drew a heavy-handed response from the Trump administration — one we're still learning about today.

News Roundup: The Big Lie Becomes Big Policy

March 25, 2021
The sheer number of voting-restriction bills currently floating in state legislatures makes it hard to keep track of where each proposal stands. But they all point to the fact that conservative leaders and fundraisers have increasingly adopted such restrictions as a primary policy position.

One Year of the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Federal Response

March 24, 2021
From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year, a stumbling federal response exacerbated a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccines in Prisons, the Pandemic in Florida, and Oversight in Congress

March 22, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Congressional Investigations, Vaccine Distribution, and New Revelations about Misused Pandemic Funds

March 8, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Inequity, Super Bowl Parties, and CARES Act Oversight

February 8, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

American Oversight Expands Lawsuit for HHS Officials’ Pandemic-Related Text Messages

February 8, 2021
American Oversight filed an amended complaint against HHS to compel the release of text messages sent or received by senior officials involved in the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response.

News Roundup: Heightened Security, Unanswered Questions, and a Twice-Impeached President

January 14, 2021
The Trump administration may be ending in less than a week, but the work of protecting our democracy will continue.

Investigations Update: The Attack on the Capitol, Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Resignation, and White House Meeting with State Attorneys General

January 13, 2021
Summary: See the latest in our investigations of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, the resignation of U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak, and states’ responses to the pandemic.

Wisconsin Official’s Emails from Spring 2020 Reveal Deep Frustration with Trump Administration over PPE Shortages

January 13, 2021
Other records obtained by American Oversight show communications regarding plans for Vice President Mike Pence’s visits to Wisconsin in 2020.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Covid-19 at the Capitol and Vaccine Confusion in the States

January 11, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: A Dark Day

January 7, 2021
Wednesday’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was a frightening and astounding display of violence instigated by the president himself.

Open Questions About President Trump’s Abuses of Office

December 28, 2020
Trump’s time as president was defined by multiple financial conflicts of interest and unprecedented abuses of power that touched nearly every aspect of public life — and there’s still a lot the American public needs to know.

Covid-19 Oversight News: More Americans Receive Vaccines, A Second Relief Bill, and Congress Investigates Political Interference

December 21, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: The Long Month Ahead

December 17, 2020
With just over a month left in his administration, there is still plenty of time for President Donald Trump to cause lasting damage.

Documents from March and April Reveal Cozy White House Private-Sector Communications About Pandemic

December 16, 2020
Documents recently obtained by American Oversight add further color to reports of private individuals and groups — some with ties to the president — being granted privileged access to propose pandemic actions.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Distribution Begins, CDC Record Preservation, and PPP Failures

December 14, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

The CDC Director Reportedly Ordered Staff to Delete Email from Trump Political Appointee — We’re Demanding the Administration Preserve Those Records

December 11, 2020
We’re calling on the CDC and HHS to ensure the email is recovered, as required by federal law.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Rising Case Numbers, Vaccine Progress, and the Pandemic in Prisons

November 23, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: Overstepping Authority and Undermining Democracy

November 19, 2020
It’s now been nearly two weeks since Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election, but President Trump and his most partisan supporters continue their attempts to thwart the will of U.S. voters.

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Pandemic Surges, Dubious Tests and Treatments, and Change on the Horizon

November 9, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

In the Documents: White House Pandemic Communications Efforts

November 2, 2020
Since the early days of the pandemic, the White House has often exhibited more apparent concern with managing public relations than with controlling the virus.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Hospital Data Collection, Vaccine Costs, and Politics Over Public Health

November 2, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: Out of Control

October 30, 2020
The pandemic continues to hit new case records, and the Trump administration is finding new ways to flout longstanding ethics requirements.

Open Questions About Trump Administration Policies

October 29, 2020
The tragically botched pandemic response and devastating practice of separating immigrant families are just some of the Trump administration’s actions that bear further scrutiny.

Covid-19 Oversight News: FDA Resistance, CDC Guidelines, and Avoidable Tragedy

October 26, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Politicization at the FDA and CDC, and the Oversight Commission’s Delayed September Report

October 19, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Emails Provide a Glimpse of Trump Administration Officials’ Heavy-Handed Involvement in HHS Communications

October 19, 2020
New documents obtained by American Oversight reveal more information about the extent to which White House officials and Trump administration political appointees interfered with press materials and communications at scientific agencies.

News Roundup: Restricting the Vote

October 15, 2020
As the election draws nearer, political observers are increasingly turning attention to poll results in states across the country. But of course, poll numbers don’t mean much if ballots aren’t counted — or if people can’t vote in the first place.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Trump’s Florida Rally, New FDA Vaccine Guidelines, and Covid-19 in Detention Centers

October 13, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: The Real Dangers

October 8, 2020
Trump’s three-day stay at the hospital and the outbreak at the White House have done little to moderate his antagonistic politics or even make him take the pandemic seriously.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Outbreak at the White House, Political Interference at the CDC

October 5, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Secretary Azar Faces Lawmakers’ Questions About Mask-Wearing, Controversial Celebrity Ad Campaign

October 2, 2020
On Friday morning, as the nation reeled from the news that the president had tested positive for the coronavirus, the health secretary testified before a House subcommittee.

Investigations Update: Coronavirus Safety Measures, USAGM Lobbying, and Voting by Mail Alarmism

September 29, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into the White House’s control of Covid-19 information, influence and access at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

Covid-19 Oversight News: FDA Vaccine Guidelines, Slaoui’s Conflicts, and HHS’s Star-Studded Ad Campaign

September 28, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: CDC Flip-Flops, Azar’s ‘Power Grab,’ and Vaccine Trial Plans

September 21, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Scientific Integrity Concerns and Anti-Immigration Opportunism

September 14, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: The Political Theater of ‘Operation Legend’

July 24, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the Trump administration has sought to distract from the rising death toll and dwindling medical stockpile with “Operation Legend."

News Roundup: Transparency in Hospital Data, and Barr’s Meetings with Giuliani and Gowdy

July 17, 2020
The ongoing sidelining of science is especially harmful when it is accompanied by efforts to control public information.
Show all updates

Related Documents

March 11, 2021

DHS Records of USSS Guidance Regarding Prevention of Covid-19 Among Officers

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - United States Secret Service
Agency Record
March 9, 2021

DHS Records of USSS Data on Covid-19 Cases Among Officers

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - United States Secret Service
Agency Record
January 22, 2021

NIAID Records Regarding Media Appearance by Dr. Anthony Fauci

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Agency Record
December 10, 2020

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office Seeking Communications Regarding Rebekah Jones

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
December 9, 2020

Records Request to Florida Department of Health Seeking Communications Regarding Rebekah Jones

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
December 9, 2020

Records Request to Florida Department of Health Seeking Alberto Moscoso’s Resignation Letter and Farewell Communications

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
November 5, 2020

No Records Response from CDC Regarding Guidance and Communications about Covid-19 Ad Blitz

Department of Health and Human Service, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Reply
October 27, 2020

No Records Response from DOL Regarding Coronavirus Talking Points and Background Materials

Department of Labor
Agency Reply
October 21, 2020

CDC Email Communications Regarding Changes to Guidance on Coronavirus Transmission

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
October 20, 2020

CDC Directives Regarding Agency Messaging on Covid-19

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
October 8, 2020

FOIA to Walter Reed and White House Military Medical Unit for NDAs Signed by Government Employees in Connection with President Trump’s Care

Department of Defense, DOD - Defense Health Agency, DOD - Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
FOIA Request
September 29, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Intelligence Products Regarding Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, DOD - Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
September 29, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Emails Regarding Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, DOD - Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, DOD - Defense Intelligence Agency, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
September 29, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Evidence of Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, DOD - Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, DOD - Defense Intelligence Agency, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
September 28, 2020

Withheld Records Response from NIH Regarding External Emails of Public Affairs Specialist Bill Crews

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
September 25, 2020

Withheld Records Response from NIH Regarding Emails of Public Affairs Specialist Bill Crews

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institutes of Health
Agency Reply
September 23, 2020

FOIA to NIAID Seeking External Emails of Public Affairs Specialist Bill Crews

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institutes of Health
FOIA Request
September 23, 2020

FOIA to NIAID Seeking Internal Emails of Public Affairs Specialist Bill Crews

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institutes of Health
FOIA Request
September 21, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Email Communications Regarding Changes to Guidance on Coronavirus Transmission

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA Seeking Records Related to BARDA Director’s Potentially Improper Dismissal

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to FDA Seeking Records Related to BARDA Director’s Potentially Improper Dismissal

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration
FOIA Request
March 31, 2020

FOIA to NIAID Seeking Any Directives Relating to Media Appearances by Dr. Anthony Fauci

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
FOIA Request
March 5, 2020

FOIA to NIAID Seeking All Records Reflecting Canceled Coronavirus Media Appearance by Dr. Anthony Fauci

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
FOIA Request
March 4, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Coronavirus Talking Points and Background Materials

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Reserve, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, VA - Veterans Health Administration, White House - Office of Management and Budget
FOIA Request
March 3, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Emails Related to Coronavirus Website Changes

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
March 3, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking HHS Coronavirus Messaging Directives

Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Reserve, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
FOIA Request
March 2, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Coronavirus Messaging Directives

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
FOIA Request
March 2, 2020

FOIA to NIAID Seeking Any Directives Advising Dr. Anthony Fauci to Cancel Coronavirus Media Appearances

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
FOIA Request
February 28, 2020

FOIA to USTR Seeking Mulvaney Email Regarding Coronavirus Communications

White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
FOIA Request
February 28, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Mulvaney Email Regarding Coronavirus Communications

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request