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 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

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