Select Subcommittee Releases New Evidence of Trump Administration Failure to Heed Early Pandemic Warnings
Washington, D.C. (September 14, 2021) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter to Peter Navarro, former Director of the White House Office of Manufacturing and Trade Policy, regarding the federal government’s response to the pandemic and haphazard efforts to obtain critical supplies. The letter cites new evidence that the Trump Administration failed to heed early warnings regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and that Mr. Navarro and other top Trump advisors used private, encrypted email accounts to conduct White House business.
“Documents recently obtained by the Select Subcommittee reveal new details regarding the Trump Administration’s awareness of the looming coronavirus crisis in the early weeks of the pandemic and failure to execute an effective strategy to contain the virus,” wrote Chairman Clyburn. “These exchanges add to the growing body of evidence that the Trump Administration knew the significant risk posed by the coronavirus but failed to execute an effective strategy to reduce the loss of American lives. The Select Subcommittee seeks to understand what the leaders in the Trump Administration knew, when they knew it, and how their decisions may have contributed to the catastrophic loss of life.”
Today’s letter details the following evidence obtained by the Select Subcommittee:
The Trump Administration Failed to Heed Early Warnings of the Looming Pandemic
- On February 29, 2020, Mr. Navarro received an email calling for a series of immediate actions to help combat the coronavirus, which warned: “The CDC has made a series of critical mistakes in implementing the most basic measure in infectious disease control, when it distributed infective test kits for coronavirus diagnosis. This served to limit our ability to screen individuals for COVID-19 infection and containment. In truth we do not have a clue how many are infected in the USA. We are expecting the first wave to spread in the US within the next 7 days… From now on, the Government must be honest about the situation and show it is undertaking major decisive actions.” The next day, Mr. Navarro sent a memorandum to then-President Trump echoing these warnings. Rather than face these realities, President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the looming crisis in subsequent days, telling the American people on March 10: “[W]e’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
- On March 16, 2020, Mr. Navarro received two draft memoranda with immediate recommendations to prepare for widespread infections. The first warned that the country faced “an urgent and immediate need to ensure an adequate supply of mechanical ventilators” and advised that then-President Trump must “immediately task the Defense Logistics Agency – Defense Reutilization Office, to conduct an immediate inventory of all mechanical respiratory ventilators of all makes and models located in DRMO and other federal agency warehouses.” The second suggested that the President should “create and prepare to deploy a small airmobile, National Guard quick-reaction medical teams to those cities projected to experience the worst numbers of severe COVID-19 cases.” In the weeks that followed, the nation faced overwhelmed hospitals and critical shortages of ventilators.
Trump Administration Officials Used Personal Email Accounts to Conduct White House Business
- Documents reveal that high-level officials in the Trump White House regularly used private email accounts to communicate about official business related to the pandemic. Between February 2020 and January 2021, Mr. Navarro exchanged more than 80 messages with other White House personnel through a private ProtonMail account. ProtonMail is a private, encrypted email service hosted by a Swiss-based technology firm, which promises to keep user data outside of the jurisdiction of the United States government as a “security” feature. Use of private email to conduct official White House business may violate the Presidential Records Act.
- Messages sent via ProtonMail included messages where Mr. Navarro pushed for unproven scientific treatments. For example, on May 27, 2020, Mr. Navarro directed Dr. Steven Hatfill—an outside advisor who worked closely with Mr. Navarro at the White House on the pandemic response—to edit a presentation on “Possible therapeutic benefits” of early treatment with hydroxychloroquine. The next day, Mr. Navarro asked Dr. Hatfill to draft “a few paragraphs on the importance of hcq as an antiinflammatory [sic] in the therapeutic process.”
- Today’s evidence follows the Select Subcommittee previous findings that additional Trump Administration advisors, including former Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Michael Caputo and his former science advisor Dr. Paul Alexander, used personal email accounts for official business, including to rebut a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientific report regarding a coronavirus outbreak at a Georgia summer camp for political gain.
“These communications raise troubling questions about whether you and other Trump Administration officials used personal accounts—including the encrypted email service ProtonMail—to intentionally shield your official communications from public view,” wrote Chairman Clyburn. “The use of private email accounts by Trump Administration officials to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is deeply concerning and may constitute a violation of government transparency rules and federal law. … Given your central role in the Trump Administration’s management of the nation’s supply chain, and your use of your personal email for official work in response to pandemic, the Select Subcommittee requests pertinent documents that remain in your personal control or possession.”
Today’s letter requests documents and communications that remain in Mr. Navarro’s possession related to his involvement in the pandemic response, as well as information regarding the use non-government accounts for official business related to the federal government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
Click here to read the letter to former Director of the White House Office of Manufacturing and Trade Policy, Peter Navarro.
Click here to read the new documents being released today.