In response to this request, CREW has received records that appear to show how pressure from the White House in March 2020 drove CDC officials to gather and circulate information on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. These records include emails sent to agency staff from the CDC’s chief of operations on March 17 and 18, 2020 in which staff were asked to forward information on hydroxychloroquine to then-CDC Director Robert Redfield so Redfield could share that information with the “TF,” an apparent reference to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, “this evening.” Redfield then forwarded information to a White House official on March 18. Former President Trump first publicly endorsed hydroxychloroquine at a press conference the following day.
The timeline sketched out by these emails lines up with prior reporting from Reuters last year indicating that former President Trump’s push for the CDC to recommend hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment began after he saw a Fox News report on the drug on March 16, 2020. Hydroxychloroquine has since been proven ineffective against the coronavirus, despite the former president’s insistence.
President Trump could be endangering the public if he is promoting scientifically-unproven speculations on coronavirus treatments to the public.
On March 19, Trump declared at a news briefing that two antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine had shown “very, very encouraging early results” against COVID-19. Two days later, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a guidance document for healthcare professionals treating COVID-19 patients and, in a step outside of typical CDC procedure, listed in its treatment options these specific drugs and dosage amounts. This unusual guidance has since been removed, raising questions around its inclusion in the first place. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then contracted a pharmaceutical company to do a month-long study on the drugs, but within two weeks was already authorizing the distribution of the anti-malarials for COVID-19 treatment. Finally, new reporting revealing that a pharma-funded group tied to a top Trump donor has been pushing Trump to approve the use of hydroxychloroquine raises more questions about industry influence around the promotion of the drugs.
CREW has requested communications on coronavirus treatment that Trump and the White House had with the FDA and CDC.
This expedited timeline raises concern around whether the government’s decision to distribute and publicize these drugs was aligned with scientific evidence or instead was a mere political tactic pushed by the president. Records will show to what extent Trump or the pharmaceutical industry influenced agency decisions to publicly release coronavirus treatment speculations that have not been vetted with scientific rigor and could put more lives at risk.