This article was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.
A House of Representatives committee today released eight secret White House Coronavirus Task Force reports that Democrats say prove President Donald Trump downplayed the spread of the coronavirus throughout the summer.
The reports reveal the full extent of the pandemic in recent months and urge measures to contain it in individual states. The White House shared this information with governors, but kept the reports from the public. The Center for Public Integrity has obtained and published dozens of the state reports this summer. In the most recent report released by lawmakers, dated Aug. 9, 20 states were in the “red zone” for coronavirus cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases of the virus per 100,000 residents in the prior week.
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“Rather than being straight with the American people and creating a national plan to fix the problem, the President and his enablers kept these alarming reports private while publicly downplaying the threat to millions of Americans,” said Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, the chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which released the reports. “As a result of the President’s failures, more than 58,000 additional Americans have died since the Task Force first started issuing private warnings, and many of the Task Force’s recommendations still have not been implemented.”
The Democrat-led committee pointed to a string of instances in which President Trump’s public evaluation of the public health emergency contradicted the judgements in the Task Force reports. For example, Trump in a July 28 interviewsaid of the pandemic: “It’s under control as much as you can control it.” But his task force on Aug. 2 said that 23 states were in the “red zone” and that “aggressive” efforts were needed in places such as South Carolina, the committee said.
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The White House pushed back on the committee’s comments.
“In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, some members of Congress have chosen to irresponsibly issue a partisan report completely for the purpose of falsely distorting the President’s record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere in an email. “The Coronavirus Task Force has been providing tailored recommendations to individual states for months encouraging Governors and local health officials to act immediately while at the same time President Trump and the entire administration has reminded Americans to follow CDC recommendations and best practices to slow the spread as we work to reopen.”
The ranking minority member of the committee, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, criticized the committee for releasing the documents and instead said it should work with Trump on “real solutions” to the pandemic.
“Democrats again have created another phony scandal,” he said in a statement. “President Trump is leading the national coronavirus response and is empowering state and local officials to take the actions needed to best protect the lives of those residing within their borders.”
Scalise alleged that the data contained in the reports is readily available to the public, but in fact some of the data, such as test positivity by metro area, is not published elsewhere by the federal government, nor are the White House’s detailed recommendations for each state.
The reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force were first uncoveredand published by Public Integrity in July. The House committee cited Public Integrity’s work when requesting the reports from the White House. The nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization is now collecting and publishing more recent reports for every state.
Trump administration officials insist that the response to the pandemic must be led by governors. Now it issues weekly public health advice that is secret and sometimes contradicted by other federal experts.
A White House official told Public Integrity that Vice President Mike Pence has made clear to governors that they are welcome to share the reports widely with health officials, lawmakers and the media. Most are not doing that; staff members in many governor’s offices have ignored Public Integrity or refused to immediately release the documents. Two states, Kentucky and Oklahoma, began posting the White House reports for their states online.