The White House’s effort to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci has emerged as one of the most visible examples of the Trump administration’s combative relationship with science. As nearly every day brings a new record for number of Covid-19 cases, the growing distance between President Donald Trump and the advice of medical and scientific experts such as Fauci, who has become one of the nation’s most trusted voices in the battle against the coronavirus, is leading more people to disapprove of the White House’s handling of the pandemic response.
“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci said in an interview with the Atlantic this week. But the ongoing sidelining of science also, of course, harms the American public — especially when it is accompanied with efforts to control public information.
From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been a number of incidents that raised concerns about transparency and public messaging. This week came the alarming news that the Trump administration had directed hospitals to report Covid-19 patient information to the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Wednesday, the page on the CDC’s website tracking hospital capacity went blank. It was restored the next day, but the page only shows data through July 14, citing the new reporting requirements.
The new reporting rule has ignited serious concerns about transparency when it comes to information about things like the availability of hospital beds and personal protective equipment. “With so many concerns over the politicization of data right now, this is concerning,” an epidemiologist told NPR.
American Oversight has been investigating the administration’s pattern of undermining or interfering with coronavirus-related information in service of the president’s political interests, from messaging control to attacks on science. Read more about that investigation and the records we’ve requested here, and see below for other news from this week:
The Unprecedented Corruption of the Roger Stone Clemency: Trump’s commutation last week of associate Roger Stone’s sentence might have felt like just one more instance of the president’s routine corruption. But the granting of clemency to Stone — who was convicted of lying to Congress to protect the president — is anything but routine. Over on our Twitter, we took a close look at just how unparalleled the action was.
Newly Unearthed Documents Show Meetings Between Barr and Giuliani — and Gowdy: On Thursday, American Oversight published records showing that Attorney General William Barr and senior officials met with both Rudy Giuliani and former Rep. Trey Gowdy in August and September 2019. Press had previously reported that Barr dropped in on one of those meetings, though as CNN wrote in reporting on the documents, the new records show that Barr’s attendance at the meetings “was not just an incidental drop-by as Justice [Department] officials have tried to portray the encounter.”
The presence of Gowdy, who would later be asked to join Trump’s impeachment defense team (but would ultimately not join), had also not been previously reported and “adds a new layer of intrigue.” The meetings were purportedly about a Venezuelan businessman whom Giuliani was representing, and took place at the same time two of Giuliani’s associates were being investigated by federal authorities in New York.
The Lifting of Silencer Sales Ban Puts Spotlight on Trump Adviser: Late last Friday, the Trump administration overturned a ban on the sale of silencers and suppressors to non-government foreign entities — a ban that had been created to help prevent terrorists or other groups from obtaining such equipment to kill U.S. troops. The change is yet another indication of the influence of industry lobbyists on the president’s decisions, and a potential sign of the sway of one adviser in particular: Michael Williams, who used to work for the suppressor industry.
As reported on by the New York Times, American Oversight recently obtained records from the Office of Management and Budget showing that Williams was invited to meet with gun lobbyists immediately after the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Read more about those documents here.
Administration Drops Plan to Rescind Student Visas: Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement drew outrage over its announced plan to strip international college students of their visas if their schools were entirely online in the fall. Harvard and MIT immediately filed a lawsuit, as did multiple states’ attorneys general. On Tuesday, the Trump administration agreed to abandon the policy. (See: Anti-Immigration Opportunism in the Coronavirus Response)
Federal Stockpile Running Low: NBC News has reported on documents showing that the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not have enough personal protective equipment to handle the latest surge in cases in states across the country. At the same time, the failure of the Trump administration to have a coherent national plan has, as Politico reported this week, left “the nation’s coronavirus fight to individual states” and “created gaping holes in the public health response.” (See: The Trump Administration’s Poor Coordination with States on Pandemic Response)
Loyalty Tests: The White House’s push to root out officials throughout the administration perceived as being insufficiently loyal to the president has reached a disturbing new stage. According to Politico, John McEntee, the head of the Presidential Personnel Office, is conducting one-on-one interviews with health officials and political appointees across the government in what many have said is an effort to remove potential threats of leaks before the November election. (See: Trump’s Post-Impeachment Authoritarian Purges)
Part of Investigation: