The top spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is taking leave, the agency announced Wednesday, days after he promoted dangerous conspiracy theories during a Facebook Live video.
In the video, first reported by the New York Times, Michael Caputo, HHS’s assistant secretary of public affairs, accused researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “do not want America to get well.” He also urged Trump supporters to refill ammunition in preparation for a violent left-wing uprising when the president wins re-election.
Caputo also said in the video that he has had health problems and that his “mental health has certainly failed.”
In the announcement, HHS said Caputo “has decided to take leave to focus on his health and the well – being of his family. Mr Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days.”
The White House appointed the longtime Trump loyalist as assistant secretary of HHS for public affairs in April after stories painted by HHS secretary Alex Azar, who raised early concerns about coronavirus.
In the months since, Caputo has been accused of trying to interfere in the CDC’s messages about the virus, but never as spectacularly as he did in the Facebook rant.
In the video, Caputo repeatedly blew up researchers at the CDC, the Times reported, and publicly undermined the agency’s work during a pandemic that already claimed over 190,000 American lives.
Some CDC researchers are involved in “sedition” and are planning “how they will attack Donald Trump,” Caputo reportedly said.
“There are scientists working for this government who do not want America to get well until after Joe Biden is president,” Caputo said. They have pushed “rotten science,” he argued.
Azar juxtaposed a question about the video Tuesday during a visit to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
“I do not want to comment on anyone’s personal social media post. Michael Caputo has been a valued member of our coronavirus response team, but I will not go into that. It is his personal social media post and I do not want to say more about it in this moment, ”Azar said.
The Times reported that the Facebook Live broadcast was on Caputo’s personal Facebook page, where he had 5,000 “friends”. His Facebook page and his Twitter account appear to have been deleted on Monday.
In the same broadcast, Caputo also seemed to fear some Democrats that Trump would try to stay in victory even if rival Joe Biden wins the election – and turned the argument upside down. He suggested Trump would win, but Biden would refuse to give in.
“And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting begins,” Caputo said.
He referred to the killing of a Trump supporter in Portland by a self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” as a “drill.”
“The exercises you have seen are nothing,” Caputo said. “If you carry weapons, you have to buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it will be difficult to get,” he added.
Caputo also said that unidentified “they” will have to kill me. “
In a statement to The Times on Monday, HHS praised Caputo, calling him “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.”
The extraordinary Facebook comments came two days after Politico reported that Caputo and his press team had demanded changes to CDC reports that they believed were in violation of Trump’s announcements about the virus.
Caputo confirmed that was the case in an interview with the Washington Post on Saturday. Referring to some of the CDC’s scientific reports, he said “there is concern everywhere [HHS] that some of the scholarships have been tainted by politics, ”Caputo said. “That is my opinion.”
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, had called for Caputo’s resignation on Monday. He is “a yes-man for President Trump with no scientific expertise who publicly attacked CDC researchers and privately interfered in important CDC reports,” Murray said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., took it a step further, urging Azar to step down, saying he has been “completely silent about the chaos and bad leadership” in the agency while failing to control “political nominees “, a reference to Caputo.
Both the White House and HHS said Azar is not going anywhere. “It is astonishing that the Democratic leader of the Senate will call for the resignation of the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the midst of a pandemic,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for HHS, said Schumer’s comments were “uninformed and are an attempt to mislead the American people and discredit the Trump administration’s historic work to fight Covid-19.”