by Amy Kelly
Attorney Edward Berkovich submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating, “I request emails sent by and received by Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, Sherri A. Berger, and Kevin Griffis (all of whom are CDC personnel) on dates beginning February 1, 2021 through May 31, 2021, containing the word myocarditis.” DailyClout reported on the initial 472-page production from that FOIA on August 29, 2023.
Mr. Berkovich recently received 46 additional pages, over 80% of which were fully redacted, involving other government entities such as the White House and Executive Office of the President, as part of this production. Of the 46 pages, only two pages were released without any redactions. Seven pages were partially redacted pages, and 37 pages were fully redacted. The redactions were “pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §552 Exemptions 5 and 6.” According to the CDC cover letter accompanying this production:
- “Exemption 5 protects inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency. Exemption 5 therefore incorporates the privileges that protect materials from discovery in litigation, including the deliberative process, attorney work-product, and attorney-client privileges. Information withheld under this exemption was protected under the deliberative process and presidential communications privileges.The deliberative process privilege protects the decision-making process of government agencies. The deliberative process privilege protects materials that are both predecisional and deliberative. The information that have been withheld under the deliberative process privilege of Exemption 5 are both predecisional and deliberative, and do not represent formal or informal agency policies or decisions. Examples of information withheld include recommendations, comments, opinions. The presidential communications privilege protects documents solicited and received by the President or his immediate White House advisers who have broad and significant responsibility for investigating and formulating the advice to be given to the President.“
- “Exemption 6 protects information in personnel and medical files and similar files when disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The information that has been withheld under Exemption 6 consists of personal information, such as a telephone number. We have determined that the individual(s) to whom this information pertains has a substantial privacy interest in withholding it.”
In this FOIA production, the first set of emails are dated May 24-25, 2021, with the subject “Draft WH [White House] Script and Slides.” Abbigail Tumpey, former Associate Director for Communication Science for CDC’s Public Health Infrastructure emailed Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, CDC Director and ATSDR Administrator, with Sherri Berger, Deputy Director for Policy, Communications, and Legislative Affairs/Chief Strategy Officer; Robert (“Robbie”) Goldstein, MD, Massachusetts’ Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH), a former Senior Policy Advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School; Paul Fulton, CDC Press Officer; and Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist CCed. These emails had a “draft press conf script and slides for [Dr. Walensky’s] review” attached. However, the 10 pages of the script and slides are fully redacted.
In the second set of emails, also dated May 24-25, 2021, Abbigail Tumpey again emails Dr. Walensky with the same people, plus Agnes Warner, CDC Deputy Director for Advance, CCed. These emails are also about “Draft WH Script and Slides” and have two attachments: “CDC WH COVID Briefing TPs for 05252021_v4.docx” and “CDC COVID WH Press Briefing 20210525.pptx.” The emails say the attachments include a “script” and “some tough Q/A.” The press conference script, slides, and Q&A are fully redacted.
In the next email, dated May 25, 2021, Benjamin Wakana, White House Deputy Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement, writes about “COVID Tough QA” to Dr. Walensky; Anthony Fauci, MD, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director, White House COVID Task Force; Andrew Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor for the COVID Response; Francis Collins, MD, PhD, Director, National Institutes of Health; Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, U.S. Surgeon General, Health and Human Services; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair. The email contains an attachment titled, “Tough QA 5.24.21 11PM.docx.” The following individuals are CCed on the email:
- Courtney M. Rowe, Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement, White House COVID-19 Response Team
- Kate Berner, White House Principal Deputy Communications Director
- Kevin Munoz, White House Assistant Press Secretary
- John Burklow, Acting Chief of Staff in the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health
- Renate Myles, Acting Associate Director for Communications and Public Liaison, National Institutes of Health
- Max Lesko, JD, Chief of Staff, Office of the U.S. Surgeon General; White House COVID-19 Response Team
- Subhan N. Cheema, Senior Strategic Communications Advisor, White House COVID-19 Response Team
- Mariel S. Sáez, White House Director of Broadcast Media
- Cameron Webb, MD, Senior Advisor for Equity to the White House COVID-19 Response Team
- Kristen Allen, White House National Press Secretary (COVID Response), Health and Human Services
- Sherice Perry, former Senior Advisor, COVID-19 Equity Task Force, Health and Human Services; now White House Senior Advisor to the Director
The email says, “Hi, attached please find the latest tough QA. New topics include:”, and all of the topics are redacted. The attached document, which appears to be 17 pages long, is completely redacted.
The final email is from Grace Kwak, White House Advisor to the Deputy COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Executive Office of the President, asking the Dr. Walensky’s Executive Assistant, Lynn Gershman, where to find “papers/briefings” about “…updates on TTS [Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia Syndrome], myocarditis, etc.” Ms. Gersham forward this “request from WH” to Sherri Berger.
Please read the full production below.