The decision to file detailed advice from the country's top disease control experts to reopen communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels in the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The files also show that, after the AP released on Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered that major parts of it be accelerated for approval.
The large number of emails shows the country's leading public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who spend weeks working on guidelines to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work repressed. by political appointees with little explanation.
The document, entitled Guidelines for implementing America's opening structure again, was researched and written to help religious leaders, businesspeople, educators and state and local authorities as they begin to reopen. It included detailed "decision trees" or flowcharts designed to help local leaders face the difficult decision to reopen or remain closed.
White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany said on Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield has released the guidelines.
This new CDC orientation – a mix of advice already released along with the latest information – had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the government filed it on April 30.
As early as April 10, Redfield, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, emailed the guidance and decision trees to President Donald Trump's inner circle, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president of domestic policy. Also included were Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other members of the task force.
Three days later, CDC senior management sent the more than 60-page report with flow charts attached to the White House Administration and Budget Office, a step usually taken only when agencies are seeking final White House approval for documents they have already were released.
The 17-page version later released by the Associated Press and other press outlets was only part of the actual document sent by the CDC and was intended for specific installations, such as bars and restaurants. The AP obtained a copy Friday of the full document. This version is a more universal series of phased guidelines, Steps for all Americans in all communities, Oriented to advise communities as a whole on testing, contact tracking and other key infection control measures.
On April 24, Redfield sent the guidance documents back to Birx and Grogan, according to a copy viewed by the AP. Redfield asked Birx and Grogan for their review so that the CDC could publish the guidance publicly. Attached to Redfield's e-mail were the corresponding guidance documents and decision trees – including one for refrigerators.
"We plan to publish them on the CDC website once approved. Peace, God bless r3," wrote the director. (Redfield's initials are R.R.R.)
Redfield's comments contradict the White House's assertion on Thursday that it had not yet approved the guidelines because the CDC leadership had not yet given them the green light.
Two days later, on April 26, the CDC had not yet received any word from the administration, according to internal communications. Robert McGowan, CDC team leader who was conducting the orientation through OMB, sent an email seeking an update. "We need them as soon as possible so that we can publish them," he wrote to Nancy Beck, an OMB employee.
Beck said he was awaiting review by the White House Board of Directors, a group of senior White House officials. "They need to be approved before they can move forward. WH directors are in contact with the task force so that it is aware of the status," Beck wrote to McGowan.
The next day, April 27, Satya Thallam, from OMB, sent a similar response to the CDC: "The reopening documents of the guidance and decision tree were sent to a west wing board of directors on Sunday. We did not receive news about the specific moment for your considerations.
"However, I am transmitting their message: they have given strict and explicit instructions that these documents have not yet been cleaned and cannot be released at the moment – this includes related press releases or other communications that can view the content or timeline of the guidelines . "
According to the documents, the CDC continued to ask for days about the guidelines that the authorities hoped to post on Friday, May 1, the day that Trump sought to reopen some companies, according to a source who obtained anonymity for not having permission to speak. to the press.
On April 30, the CDC documents were permanently deleted.
The agency had not received specific criticism from the White House board of directors or the coronavirus task force for days, so officials asked for an update.
"The guidelines should be more transversal and say when they should reopen and how to keep people safe. Fundamentally, the task force released this for further development, but not for release," wrote Quinn Hirsch, an official at the White House office. regulatory affairs (OIRA), in an email to the parent agency of the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services.
The guidance team at the CDC decided to try again.
The government had already released its America's opening plan again, and the clock was ticking. CDC officials thought that if they could receive their reopening advice, it would help communities to do so with detailed help from experts.
WATCH Trump promotes the reopening of the US as the projection of COVID-19's death increases:
But hours later, on April 30, CDC chief of staff McGowan told CDC staff that neither the guidance documents nor the decision trees "would ever see the light of day," according to three officials who refused to be identified because they were not allowed to speak. for reporters.
The next day, May 1, according to the emails, a CDC official was told "we would not be allowed to publish the decision trees. We had the team [exhausted as they are] stand up. "
CDC guidelines have been archived. Until May 7th.
That morning, the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration had buried the guidance, even when many states began to allow companies to reopen.
After the story was published, the White House called the CDC and ordered them to trim all decision trees except one that targeted churches. An e-mail obtained by the AP confirmed that the agency resented the documents late Thursday, hours after the news.
"Attached according to today's request earlier are the decision trees previously submitted to OIRA and the WH task force, minus the Tree of Faith communities," the email said. "Please let us know if / when / how we can proceed from here."