The White House planted 2 political operatives in the CDC to keep tabs on director Robert Redfield and his scientists, report says

Trump, CDC
CDC Director Robert Redfield speaks, with President Donald Trump in the background, during a White House coronavirus task force briefing on April 22, 2020.
  • The White House positioned two political operatives at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, the Associated Press reported.
  • The first, Nina Witkofsky was appointed as senior advisor to CDC Director Robert Redfield and promoted to acting chief of staff within weeks. The second, Chester Moeller, is her deputy.
  • A White House official told the AP the pair were placed there to control the agency's messaging because leaks were "upsetting the apple cart."
  • Their remit included keeping watch on Redfield and the agency's scientists, CDC officials told the AP.
  • The news is the latest in a series of moves that show how the White House has sought to control the CDC, and prevent it from influencing the government's reaction to the pandemic.
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The White House planted two political officials with no public health experience at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep tabs on the agency and its scientists, according to The Associated Press.

Nina Witkofsky was appointed as senior advisor to CDC Director Robert Redfield at the agency's Atlanta headquarters in June and within weeks had been promoted to CDC acting chief of staff.

The second political arrival, Chester "Trey" Moeller, is Witkofsky's deputy. 

Witkofsky, the AP said, played a small role in Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. Her CDC profile also says she has worked in governmental affairs for 20 years, including at the State Department. 

A White House official told the AP that the pair were placed at the CDC to control its messaging because leaks were "upsetting the apple cart."

Their remit included keeping watch on Redfield and the agency's scientists, CDC officials told the AP.

CDC staff had little warning that the pair were joining, an agency source told the AP, adding that no one knew their job titles and that they didn't have assigned offices. "They just showed up on a Monday," the official said.

robert redfield
Redfield testifying before the Senate on September 23, 2020.

The CDC has had a fractious relationship with the White House throughout the pandemic, and has itself made several missteps that damaged its credibility.

The CDC first drew the wrath of the White House on February 21 when Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official, warned publicly that the outbreak was getting worse.

At the time the White House was trying to play down the threat, and Trump reportedly called Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar and said he wanted Messonnier to be sacked.

Since that time the CDC and White House have clashed several times and a number of damning reports have detailed how the White House has ignored CDC scientific advice.

"It's mind-boggling in the totality of ambition to so deeply undermine what's so vitally important to the public," a CDC scientist told ProPublica of the Trump administration's approach to the agency during the pandemic.

The scientist also said the administration was "appropriating a public enterprise and making it into an agent of propaganda for a political regime."

On September 23, Dr. William Foege, a former CDC director, wrote to Redfield to tell him that the agency's reputation had gone "from gold to tarnished brass" and that he should call out the White House for its skulduggery.

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