Tags: Coronavirus | Trump Administration | redfield | hahn | azar | cdc | fda

Redfield, Hahn Accuse Former HHS Chief Azar of Political Interference

alex azar speaks to press from podium
Then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks to the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 29 March 2021 08:05 AM

Two of former President Donald Trump's senior coronavirus task force members are accusing then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar of interfering with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic for political purposes. 

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and ex-Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, during a CNN Special Report broadcast Sunday night, said Azar called for changes to reports and more. 

"(What) I was most offended by was the calls that wanted me to pressure and change the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report )on COVID-19," Redfield told CNN's Sanjay Gupta. "He may deny that, but it's true."

He said that not only was he pressured by Azar and his office, but his lawyers, and the one time that was the "most egregious" was when "his lawyer and his chief of staff called and pressured me again for at least another hour, even to the point of, like, accusing me of failing to make this change that would cost, you know, thousands of lives. I finally had a moment in life where I said, you know, enough is enough. If you want to fire me, fire me. I'm not changing the MMWR."

CNN said Azar declined a request to be interviewed for the program, but that he said in a statement that "any suggestion that I pressured or otherwise asked Dr. Redfield to change the content of a single peer-reviewed MMWR article is false."

Redfield said the situation was difficult, as he spent 23 years in the military and he is a "command chain kind of guy," and if he couldn't stay in the command chain, he would leave, but even if he couldn stay in the chain of command, "I will decide to stay as long as I think I still have value for the nation."

He also said that he had thought he would have a "great relationship" with Azar and that he would "just let me run the CDC," but "unfortunately, that's not the deal I got, I don't think that's the deal Hahn got either."

Redfield added that the challenges he faced didn't come from the White House, but with Azar.  Meanwhile, Hahn told CNN that his "line in the sand" came when Azar blocked the FDA's ability to regulate lab-developed tests, including for COVID-19. 

Last August, HHS enacted a rules change that prohibited the FDA from overseeing lab-developed tests that were produced by hundreds of hospitals before they were marketed without a detailed rules process, saying it was taking action through a broad Trump administration review of "duplicative actions and unnecessary processes," reports Axios.

Public health experts, including the FDA, were concerned that the change could lead to unreliable coronavirus tests hitting the market. 

Hahn implied to Gupta that Azar shouted at him when discussing the change. 

"I knew this oversight was important and I knew the FDA stamp of approval meant something," said Hahn. "I can 100% assure you I did not shout and scream at the Secretary of Health and Human Service." 

When asked directly if Azar had shouted at him, Hahn replied that "you should ask him that question," but added that there was "definitely that sort of pressure ... at the end of the day, someone's trying to ask me to do something that I don't think is right, and my patient, the American people, needed something different."

Azar, in another statement, said the "FDA's illegal assertion of jurisdiction over common lab-developed tests slowed the development of U.S. COVID testing and that Dr. Hahn's recitation of this call is incorrect."

Azar also said that Hahn threatened to resign during the call about the tests, but Hahn said that never happened. 

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Two of former President Donald Trump's senior coronavirus task force members are accusing then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar of interfering with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic for political purposes...
redfield, hahn, azar, cdc, fda, hhs, covid
Monday, 29 March 2021 08:05 AM
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