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Dr. Deborah Birx

While public attention remains raptly focused on the House committee probing former President Donald Trump's attempted coup and the Capitol insurrection, another investigation is compiling proof of his catastrophic failure to prevent hundreds of thousands of American deaths in the coronavirus pandemic.

New documents released this week by the House Select Coronavirus Subcommittee show that the Trump White House distorted and concealed vital information about the virus for purely partisan purposes — and that those political decisions caused avoidable suffering and mortality on a massive scale.

According to the documents released by congressional investigators — and reported byThe Hill on Nov. 12 — Trump officials repeatedly interfered with efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide guidance to the public about the pandemic. Later those political aides sought to hide or destroy the evidence of their interference to block CDC messages about the disease.

The motive behind their obstruction of CDC's career scientists was to put Trump's political self-interest above public health. True information about the likely spread and impact of the pandemic conflicted with Trump's relentlessly and falsely optimistic claims about the threat it posed.

An early example occurred on February 25, 2020, when Nancy Messonier, then director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, held a press briefing on the impending peril of the pandemic. Messonier calmly and correctly informed reporters that by then the spread of the novel coronavirus was no longer avoidable, which meant that immediate public health measures would need to be implemented.

By informing the public of the reality of a public health emergency about to erupt, Messonier infuriated Trump. Two days later, the president embarked on his campaign to downplay the pandemic, bury accurate scientific information, and spread his "rosy scenario" of lethal nonsense. His remarks, replete with lies, still reverberate:

"It's going to disappear," Trump said at a Black History Month event. "One day — it's like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows. The fact is, the greatest experts — I've spoken to them all. Nobody really knows."

None of that was true and, as he later admitted, he knew it then. Moreover, the experts in his own administration knew it and had informed him that this virulent illness would not just "disappear." But he didn't want to hear it and he didn't want anyone else to hear it either. The White House ordered the CDC to stop any public briefings until June 2020, leaving Americans confused and uninformed during the pandemic's confusing early months.

Following Messonier's press briefing, the White House seized direct control of all public communication regarding the pandemic. Trump aides refused many requests from CDC to resume briefings, replacing them instead with the infamous White House coronavirus task force TV show starring Donald Trump. Anne Schuchat, then a CDC deputy director, told the House subcommittee that she stopped watching the White House briefings because they delivered "unhelpful" conflicting messages.

Around that time, Trump political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services were enforcing his falsely cheery propaganda campaign. They didn't want US scientific agencies releasing "negative information" that conflicted with Trump's optimistic claims, and specifically insisted on altering the CDC's weekly morbidity and mortality reports. An email showing that HHS political appointee Paul Alexander had demanded that CDC halt publication of scientific facts, because they might hurt Trump's reelection campaign, was intentionally deleted to conceal the interference.

None of that was true and, as he later admitted, he knew it. Moreover, the experts in his own administration knew it and had informed him that this virulent illness would not just "disappear." But he didn't want to hear it and he didn't want anyone else to hear it either. The White House ordered the CDC to stop any public briefings until June 2020, leaving Americans confused and uninformed during the pandemic's confusing early months.

Following Messonier's press briefing, the White House seized direct control of all public communication regarding the pandemic. Trump aides refused many requests from CDC to resume briefings, replacing them instead with the infamous White House coronavirus task force TV show starring Donald Trump. Anne Schuchat, then a CDC deputy director, told the House subcommittee that she stopped watching the White House briefings because they delivered "unhelpful" conflicting messages.

Around that time, Trump political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services were enforcing his falsely cheery propaganda campaign. They didn't want US scientific agencies releasing "negative information" that conflicted with Trump's optimistic claims, and specifically insisted on altering the CDC's weekly morbidity and mortality reports. An email showing that HHS political appointee Paul Alexander had demanded that CDC halt publication of scientific facts, because they might hurt Trump's reelection campaign, was intentionally deleted to conceal the interference.

How many lives were lost by this ruthless sanitizing of the pandemic truth? Deborah Birx, the former Trump health adviser who became familiar from her appearances on the White House task force, told the House subcommittee last month behind closed doors that she estimates the cost of Trump's oblivious inaction at 130,000 excess deaths.

"I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range," Birx said in excerpts of her testimony released by the subcommittee (chaired by the dauntless Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina).

No person who can accept the truth doubts the culpability of Trump in hundreds of thousands of American deaths, or the responsibility of his malignant gang and his media echo chamber in the pandemic disaster of 2020. Their lies are still broadcast from the all-vaccinated studio of Fox News and other right-wing outlets. But the final report of the House subcommittee promises more revelations — and at last a detailed accounting of the deadly legacy of Trump and his accomplices.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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