• The White House installs two political operatives at the CDC.
NEW YORK — The Trump White House has installed two political operatives at the nation’s top public health agency to try to control the information it releases about the coronavirus pandemic as the administration seeks to paint a positive outlook, sometimes at odds with the scientific evidence.
The two appointees assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters in June have no public health background. They have instead been tasked with keeping an eye on Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency director, as well as scientists, according to a half- dozen CDC and administration officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal government affairs.
The appointments were part of a push to get more “politicals” into the CDC to help control messaging after a handful of leaks were “upsetting the apple cart,” said an administration official.
When the two appointees showed up in Atlanta, their roles were a mystery to senior CDC staff, the people said. They had not even been assigned offices. Eventually one, Nina Witkofsky, became acting chief of staff, an influential role as Dr. Redfield’s right hand. The other, her deputy Chester “Trey” Moeller, also began sitting in on scientific meetings, the sources said.
It’s not clear to what extent the two appointees have affected the agency’s work, according to interviews with multiple CDC officials. But congressional investigators are examining that very question after evidence has mounted of political interference in CDC scientific publications, guidance documents and web postings.
The White House declined to comment. A CDC spokesperson confirmed that Ms. Witkofsky and Mr. Moeller were working at the agency reporting to Dr. Redfield, but did not comment further.
Mr. Moeller said in an email to The AP, “I work for Dr. Redfield who is 100% committed to the science and the thousands of incredibly dedicated employees at the CDC working on behalf of the American people.”
During previous pandemics such as Ebola or SARS, the CDC was the public face of the U. S. response, offering scientifically driven advice to doctors and patients alike. The agency played the same role at the beginning of the COVID- 19 pandemic, but stumbled in February when a test for the virus sent to states proved to be flawed.