‘Like a Hand Grasping’: Trump Appointees Describe the Crushing of the C.D.C.

“What’s not legitimate is to overrule science,” he said.

Often, Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell mediated between Dr. Redfield and agency scientists when the White House’s guidance requests and dictates would arrive: edits from Mr. Vought and Kellyanne Conway, the former White House adviser, on choirs and communion in faith communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and aide, on schools.

“Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won,” Mr. McGowan said.

Episodes of meddling sometimes turned absurd, they said. In the spring, the C.D.C. published an app that allowed Americans to screen themselves for symptoms of Covid-19. But the Trump administration decided to develop a similar tool with Apple. White House officials then demanded that the C.D.C. wipe its app off its website, Mr. McGowan said.

Ms. Campbell said that at the pandemic’s outset, she was confident the agency had the best scientists in the world at its disposal, “just like we had in the past.”

“What was so different, though, was the political involvement, not only from H.H.S. but then the White House, ultimately, that in so many ways hampered what our scientists were able to do,” she said.

Top C.D.C. officials devised workarounds. Instead of posting new guidance for schools and election officials in the spring, they published “updates” to previous guidance that skipped formal review from Washington. That prompted officials in Washington to insist on reviewing updates.

Brian Morgenstern, a White House spokesman, said that “all proposed guidelines and regulations with potentially sweeping effects on our economy, society and constitutional freedoms receive appropriate consultation from all stakeholders, including task force doctors, other experts and administration leaders.”

A C.D.C. spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell both attended the University of Georgia and saw their C.D.C. positions as homecomings. Mr. McGowan said the two institutions he revered most during his Georgia childhood were the C.D.C. and Coca-Cola.