Ex-CDC Official on Agency and White House Clash Over COVID Response: 'Messaging Won' Over Science

Kyle McGowan and Amanda Campbell, the former chief and deputy chief of staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) respectively, continued to speak out about political pressures impacting the agency's COVID-19 response on Sunday.

Addressing the Trump administration's stifling bureaucratic influence during an appearance on NBC News' Meet the Press, McGowan and Campbell discussed how White House pushback changed the CDC's approach to pandemic management this year. Their latest comments followed last week's New York Times report in which the two first shed light on what they described as ongoing governmental manipulation.

"As Amanda and I worked in the spring and summer, we saw more and more, the administration wanting a larger say in the messaging that was coming out of the CDC," McGowan told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd during Sunday morning's interview, referencing the public health bureau's guidance related to the novel coronavirus and recommended steps to mitigate transmission.

"When that messaging clashed with the science, the messaging won," the former chief continued. "And you know, it's our hope moving forward that the CDC will be able to again talk directly to the American people."

EXCLUSIVE: Former CDC chief of staff says the Trump administration started demanding “a larger say in the messaging that was coming out of the CDC” about Covid-19 in spring.@KMcGowan08: “When that messaging clashed with the science, the messaging won.” pic.twitter.com/BaOcA4HMtj

— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 20, 2020

Civilians and leaders across the U.S. came to regard the CDC as a principal resource for information about COVID-19, and how to lower risks of further spread, shortly after the pandemic's onset last spring. The agency has issued updated guidance about the viral respiratory disease, its primary modes of transmission, and what people can do to protect themselves in the absence of a widely available vaccine throughout the outbreak. Many state and local regulations to mitigate the virus' proliferation are based on CDC recommendations.

In their joint New York Times interview, and again on Sunday, McGowan and Campbell detailed instances where the White House acted as a barrier to the CDC as it attempted to deliver information to the general populous. Campbell specifically recalled one example of Donald Trump's opposition prompting an amended approach from the agency in her comments to Todd on Meet the Press.

"We did see, more and more often, individuals across the administration commenting on the guidance that the CDC was trying to put out. And, unfortunately, that often led to delays," she said. "And in some cases...it let to us having to go back and make changes and do additional guidance in order to provide the right information, and more information, really, to the American people."

NEW: Fmr. CDC Dep. Chief of Staff Amanda Campbell says “individuals across the administration” commented on CDC’s Covid guidance through summer 2020.

Campbell: “What was so critical during that time ... was CDC to be able to get information out quickly to the American people.” pic.twitter.com/PKaInaVVgT

— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 20, 2020

In July, the CDC released a revised set of guidelines to reopen schools after its initial criteria faced criticism from the president. "I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools," Trump wrote. "While they want them to open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!"

Trump has been subject to widespread criticism himself for the federal government's response to COVID-19, which many continue to denounce as a failure given the high incidence of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths recorded in the U.S. More than 17.6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide as of Sunday morning, and nearly 316,300 have died as a result, according to Johns Hopkins University's data.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC and White House for comments, but did not receive replies in time for publication.

Donald Trump, COVID-19, White House
Former CDC officials Kyle McGowan and Amanda Campbell continued to speak out about Trump administration officials' efforts to influence the health agency's COVID-19 response on Sunday. President Donald Trump speaks to the press during the renewed briefing of the Coronavirus Task Force in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 22. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images