“Since I became a member of the administration, my family and I have been constantly threatened and in and out of the criminal court, which deals with the prosecution of harassment,” Caputo said in a statement. “This weighs heavily on us, and we greatly appreciate the friendship and support of President Trump as we address these issues and keep our children safe.”
Caputo’s comments come as Trump administration officials say they are seeking to build public support for a coronavirus vaccine but have been the subject of a series of disappointing setbacks, most recently the release of audio in which the president admitted he deliberately downplayed the virus , when he knew it was “deadly.”
Trump installed Caputo in April after considering whether to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over a series of damaging stories about Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to three current and former White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe behind-the-scenes discussions. Allies persuaded Trump not to make such a change in the midst of a pandemic, but instead to bring Caputo in, officials said. (Trump denied reports that he was considering firing Azar at the time.)
Almost immediately, Caputo began to exercise control over officials’ public appearances and statements; by the beginning of the summer, he had extended this study to researchers. He and an adviser have come under increasing criticism in recent days for interfering in the work of researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and trying to change, delay or kill weekly scientific reports that they believed undermined Trump’s message that the pandemic is under control. Caputo has also tried to influence when government researchers appear on television, telling officials he approves such reservations.
Caputo is seen as a Trump loyalist, but several White House officials said his behavior has been erratic and some of his ideas have been considered extreme. For example, he suggested that the federal government spend millions of dollars on a professionally directed and produced documentary about the administration’s race to develop vaccines that he wanted to send at film festivals, said a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The idea was rejected by communications assistants in the White House.
In the Facebook video, Caputo criticizes the government’s career researchers, the media and the Democrats, the Times reported, and Caputo confirmed. He said he was attacked by the media and that his “mental health is certainly failing.”
“I do not like being alone in Washington,” Caputo said in the video, describing “shadows in the ceiling of my apartment that alone, shadows are so long.”
Caputo also said the CDC, which is part of the HHS, had a “resistance unit” that aimed to undermine Trump. Without presenting evidence, he also accused scientists “deep inside the CDC’s gut” of abandoning science and becoming “political animals”.
They “have not gotten out of their training pants except meetings in coffee shops” to plan “how they will attack Donald Trump next time,” he said in the video. “There are scientists working for this government who do not want America to recover until after Joe Biden is president.”
He also predicted that Trump would win the election, but that Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, would refuse to run. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting begins,” he warned in the video. “The exercises you have seen are nothing. If you carry weapons, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get. ”
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) And Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), Called late Monday for Caputo’s firing.
Secretary Azar has a fundamental responsibility to ensure that our public health experts are able to perform their jobs, our covid-19 response is not undermined by misinformation or conspiracy theories, and the data used to inform our efforts is free for political interference, “Murray said in a statement.
Noting that Caputo has said that the president asked him to oversee a $ 250 million campaign “designed to help America get back to normal,” DeLauro said, “We now know that this is a “It is not up to the Department of Health and Human Services to get the president re-elected.”
House Democrats in the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis also announced that they had launched a study of political interference in the CDC’s scientific reports on the pandemic.
The White House declined to comment on the controversy Monday.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes conversations, a White House official said the president was aware of Caputo’s comments, but that his job seemed safe for now. Nevertheless, the official said some advisers argued that Caputo should be demoted or removed out of concern that he could harm the administration’s efforts to build public confidence in a potential coronavirus vaccine.
The official said the White House recently also expanded its coronavirus vaccine messaging team, which describes staff from other agencies in an “end run” around Caputo.
Senior White House aides have previously warned Caputo that some of his public comments crossed a line. Caputo disabled his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts on Monday.
The HHS released a statement describing Caputo as “a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response, leading to public announcements as Americans need public health information to defeat the covid-19 pandemic.”
Several current and former administration officials have expressed frustration that Caputo seems more focused on the president’s political fortunes than on fighting the pandemic. Caputo denied it, saying that while he is concerned about the president’s choices, he is most concerned about the deaths and suffering caused by the pandemic. He noted that he has encouraged friends to wear masks. “If you do not wear a mask, you are part of the problem,” he said in the interview.
As a former host of radio talk shows, Caputo said he used to host such Facebook Live events every Sunday until he took the assistant secretary job in April. Since then, he has conducted two or three such events to talk about the pandemic response.
He said he was talking about being in personal danger on the Facebook Live video because a car had stopped in front of his home in the Buffalo area where he shot the video, and a man rolled down the car window and shouted swear words twice, threatening his life.
Since Caputo has been in the HHS job, he said, his two young daughters, now 6 and 8, have been constantly harassed. A man is being prosecuted for shouting swear words at them while playing outside, he said. The Post could not immediately confirm this case.
During the video, Caputo said questioners asked if he would stay in the job due to growing criticism of his team’s involvement in the work of the CDC’s weekly scientific missions aimed at the country’s doctors, known as weekly reports on morbidity and mortality. He said he expected to remain in his position.
Caputo was an unusual choice for the top job in health communications in government, especially in the midst of the worst public health crisis of a century. A New York PR specialist and political consultant, Caputo served as campaign manager for controversial businessman Carl Paladino in his failed bid for governor of New York in 2010. Caputo began working with Trump in 2014, first to help Trump’s failed bid to buy Buffalo. Bills that year and then in 2016 to help Trump’s efforts in the Republican primary for president in New York.
Caputo remained in the public eye, especially after the appointment of Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III in 2017. In frequent interviews, Caputo lamented the investigation and the effect it had on Trump allies facing large legal bills when they received subpoenas and requests for interviews with investigators. When the investigation ended, Trump hosted Caputo for a meeting in the Oval Office and took pictures with his family.
Caputo himself drew Mueller’s investigators, among other things, because he had had contact with a Russian who offered harmful information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
In May 2016, Caputo said, a Russian man approached then-business partner Sergey “George” Petrushin at an art gallery opening in Florida, claiming to have information that could be useful to Trump’s campaign. Petrushin connected him with Caputo, who arranged for him to meet with political operator Roger Stone, a longtime friend.
According to the Mueller report, which described the episode, investigators found no connection between the Russian man’s outreach and Russia’s wider efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
As a political adviser and PR specialist, Caputo had also lived for a time in Moscow in the 1990s, working on a campaign reminiscent of “Rock the Vote” on behalf of then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
When he returned to the United States, Caputo signed a contract in 2000 and worked for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media to improve Vladimir Putin’s image in the United States. He later told the Buffalo News that he “was not proud of the work” and added, “at the time, Putin was not such a bad guy.”