The top US Department of Health spokesman is saying goodbye, the agency said on Wednesday, days after promoting dangerous conspiracy theories on a live Facebook video.
In the video, first reported by the New York Times, Michael Caputo, assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS, accused scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “not wanting America to get well.” He also urged Trump supporters to stock up on ammunition to prepare for a violent left wing uprising if the president wins re-election.
Caputo also said in the video that he has health problems and that his “mental health has definitely failed”
In the announcement, HHS said Caputo had “decided to take vacation to focus on his health and family well-being. Mr. Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days.”
The White House named the longtime Trump loyalist HHS Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs in April after HHS Secretary Alex Azar raised concerns about the coronavirus early on.
In the months since then, Caputo has been accused of attempting to disrupt CDC news about the virus, but never as spectacularly as in the Facebook rant.
In the video, Caputo repeatedly blew up CDC scientists, the Times reported, and publicly undermined the agency’s work during a pandemic that has killed over 190,000 Americans.
Some CDC scientists are involved in “riot” and are planning “how they will attack Donald Trump,” Caputo said.
“There are scientists who work for this government and they don’t want America to get well until after Joe Biden is president,” Caputo said. They were doing “lazy science,” he argued.
Azar avoided a question about the video on Tuesday while visiting Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
“I’m not going to comment on anyone’s personal social media posts. Michael Caputo was a valued member of our coronavirus response team, but I’m not going to get into that. These are their personal social media posts, and that’s me.” I won’t have more to say at this moment, “said Azar.
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 Twitter account both appear to have been deleted on Monday.
On the same show, Caputo also appeared to capitalize on fears some Democrats had that Trump would try to stay in office even if rival Joe Biden wins the election – and turned the argument on its head. He suggested Trump would win, but Biden would refuse to admit.
“And if Donald Trump refuses to step down on inauguration, filming will begin,” said Caputo.
He called the assassination of a Trump supporter in Portland by a self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” an “exercise”.
“The drills you saw are nothing,” said Caputo. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it will be hard to come by,” he added.
Caputo also said that an unknown “they” “must kill me”.
In a statement to The Times on Monday, HHS praised Caputo and called him “a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response leading to public news that Americans need public health information to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic . “
The exceptional Facebook comments came two days after Politico reported that Caputo and his press team had requested changes in CDC reports they believed contradicted Trump’s news about the virus.
Caputo confirmed this in an interview with the Washington Post on Saturday. Regarding some of the CDC’s scientific reports, he said, “There are concerns [HHS] that some of the scholarships have been tainted by politics, ”said Caputo. “This is my opinion.”
Washington Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, called for Caputo’s resignation on Monday. He is “a yes man for President Trump with no scientific expertise, who has publicly attacked CDC scientists and privately interfered in important CDC reports,” said Murray.
Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., went a step further and asked Azar to resign after Caputo.
Both the White House and HHS said Azar was going nowhere. “It’s amazing that in the midst of a pandemic, the Democratic Senate Chairman would call for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to step down,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for HHS, said Schumer’s comments were “uninformed and an attempt to mislead the American people and to discredit the Trump administration’s historic work to fight Covid-19.”