Caputo told staff that he would meet with HHS Secretary Alex Azar later on Tuesday, the people said with knowledge of the meeting.
President Donald Trump – a close ally of Caputo who appointed him as HHS communications director earlier this year – is also expected to be involved in any decision on Caputo’s next steps.
Three people with knowledge of Caputo’s decision-making confirmed that he was considering stepping aside as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Affairs for medical leave. A former HHS official told POLITICO that Caputo, a former Trump campaign official, had long complained about the stress caused by being mentioned in the Special Envoy̵
During Tuesday’s meeting with his staff, Caputo alluded to the fact that HHS had long functioned in the past without a permanent top communications officer, an HHS official said.
Caputo also denied anonymous White House criticism of his mental health – he said some of his comments were taken out of context – and ended the meeting by encouraging his staff to listen to music from the Grateful Dead.
HHS declined to comment.
The meeting came after a turbulent week for Caputo in which several Democrats were asked to step down.
On Tuesday, Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate minority, also called on Azar’s overthrow, accusing him of allowing political officials to interfere in the ministry’s public health work because he was “almost completely silent about the chaos and mismanagement in the country.” his own agency “.
Caputo joined HHS earlier this year as the chief communications officer in an attempt at the White House to exercise better control over health department news.
In recent weeks, however, Caputo has been at the center of several episodes of political interference in the department’s Covid-19 response, including POLITICO reports that he and top advisor Paul Alexander attempted to influence key CDC scientific bulletins. Alexander, a personal friend of Caputo’s who was hired as a science advisor earlier this year, also urged infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci to downplay the risk of the virus to children.
Alexander’s fate is likely related to Caputo’s next steps, a current HHS official said. “He’s not someone who would have been hired if Caputo hadn’t brought him in,” the official said, noting that Alexander – a part-time professor at McMaster University in Canada – fitted the press room unusually. “If we need scientific advice, there is a whole government of scientists we can call,” added the official.
Caputo had quarreled separately with career officials in the Food and Drug Administration after tapping into another ally, John “Wolf” Wagner, to lead communications at the agency. Wagner was reassigned to the role after just two months, amid criticism from former government officials and health experts of the FDA’s politicized news.
Caputo spent days battling critics who attacked him and Alexander for pressuring government scientists to change their messages. In a tweet about Caputo’s since-deleted personal account according to the CDC report, he wrote, “I am effective,” the tweet reads. “Get used to it.” Caputo’s personal account disappeared on Monday.
On Sunday, Caputo went to Facebook Live to make a series of wild and false allegations warning of a post-election armed uprising and alleging, without evidence, that public health officials were trying to undermine Trump’s re-election offer.
Several people inside and outside the administration subsequently raised concerns with Azar and the White House about the Facebook Live video.