On Friday, a congressional committee tasked with examining the nation’s COVID-19 response announced that it had uncovered evidence that the Trump administration purposely undermined efforts to manage the spread of the virus in order to personally benefit the former president.
The report comes from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which was established in April 2020 to investigate “the effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and transparency of the nation’s response to the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” The report alleges that it has uncovered “evidence of the Trump Administration’s deliberate efforts to undermine the nation’s coronavirus response for political purposes.”
The report further posits that the Trump administration disparaged testing guidance by health experts and silenced its own officials in order to make the former president look good during an election year.
“Trump White House officials neglected the pandemic response to focus on the 2020 presidential election and promote the Big Lie that the election results were fraudulent,” the report stated.
The report highlighted a number of instances when the White House promoted false and dangerous ideas on how to deal with the pandemic — including the promotion of so-called “natural herd immunity,” a concept that many have likened to the discredited and racist theory of eugenics.
In August 2020, Trump convened a meeting promoting the idea of natural herd immunity alongside his adviser Scott Atlas. According to the subcommittee’s findings, Deborah Birx, who was a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, emailed then-Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, to tell him that Atlas represented “a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground common sense experience.” Two months after that meeting took place, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins called for a “devastating published takedown” of Atlas’s proposed herd immunity strategy.
Atlas and other Trump aides also “purposely weakened [the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)] coronavirus testing guidance in August 2020 to obscure how rapidly the virus was spreading across the country,” Birx told the subcommittee. Reducing testing was “contrary to consensus science-based recommendations,” the subcommittee noted.
Trump’s actions at the beginning of the pandemic were also alarming. The former president significantly downplayed the concerns many had in February 2020, at one point saying the virus was no more than a political “hoax” by Democrats and the media to make him look bad. After an official from the CDC spoke out about the risks that COVID-19 posed to the public, the Trump administration blocked requests from that agency to speak to the media for over three months afterward, the subcommittee’s report said, even refusing to allow CDC officials to discuss documented pediatric cases and deaths due to the virus.
Trump’s efforts to obfuscate the reality of the situation in order to benefit politically were well-noted before the subcommittee’s report. In June 2020, his administration engaged in a smear campaign against Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s own coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
At the time, a memo was leaked from the White House to reporters suggesting that several officials were “concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The memo edited a number of Fauci’s remarks and took comments he made at the start of the pandemic out of context to discredit him.
The effort to discredit Fauci — which ultimately failed — came after the infectious diseases expert made several comments that contradicted Trump’s disinformation about the pandemic.
That same month, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he didn’t believe masks were effective at preventing the spread of the virus, a notion that had already been proven false.
“They put their finger on the mask, and they take them off, and then they start touching their eyes and touching their nose and their mouth,” Trump said. “And then they don’t know how they caught it?”
Trump also told the publication that he believed people who wore masks were making a political statement against him. The former president didn’t wear a mask in public until July of 2020, a move that likely discouraged his loyalists from wearing them throughout the course of the pandemic.