Dr. Deborah L. Birx, President Donald J. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, told a congressional committee investigating the federal pandemic response that Trump White House officials asked her to change or delete parts of the weekly guidance she sent state and local health officials, in what she described as a consistent effort to stifle information as virus cases surged in the second half of 2020.
Dr. Birx, who publicly testified to the panel Thursday morning, also told the committee that Trump White House officials withheld the reports from states during a winter outbreak and refused to publicly release the documents, which featured data on the virus’s spread and recommendations for how to contain it.
Her account of White House interference came in a multiday interview the committee conducted in October 2021, which was released on Thursday with a set of emails Dr. Birx sent to colleagues in 2020 warning of the influence of a new White House pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, who she said downplayed the threat of the virus. The emails provide fresh insight into how Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, grappled with what Dr. Birx called the misinformation spread by Dr. Atlas.
The push to downplay the threat was so pervasive, Dr. Birx told committee investigators, that she developed techniques to avoid attention from White House officials who might have objected to her public health recommendations. In reports she prepared for local health officials, she said, she would sometimes put ideas at the ends of sentences so that colleagues skimming the text would not notice them.
In her testimony on Thursday, she offered similarly withering assessments of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, suggesting that officials in 2020 had mistakenly viewed the coronavirus as akin to the flu even after seeing high Covid-19 death rates in Asia and Europe. That, she said, had caused a “false sense of security in America” as well as a “sense among the American people that this was not going to be a serious pandemic.”
Not using “concise, consistent communication,” she added, “resulted in inaction early on, I think across our agencies.”
And those at fault, she said, were not “just the president.”
“Many of our leaders were using words like, ‘We could contain,’” she continued. “And you cannot contain a virus that cannot be seen. And it wasn’t being seen because we weren’t testing.”
Dr. Birx became a controversial figure during her time in the Trump White House. A respected AIDS researcher, she was plucked from her position running the government’s program to combat the international H.I.V. epidemic to coordinate the federal Covid response.
But her credibility came into question when she failed to correct Mr. Trump’s unscientific musings about the coronavirus and praised him on television as being “attentive to the scientific literature.” She was also criticized for bolstering White House messaging in the early months of the coronavirus outbreak that the pandemic was easing.
Yet as outbreaks continued that year, Mr. Trump and some senior advisers grew…