HHS spokesman Michael Caputo previously accused Democrats of not wanting a Covid vaccine to punish Trump
A Trump health appointee is taking a leave of absence after allegations of political interference in the federal coronavirus response, followed by a personal video that warned of election violence and all but equated science with resistance.
Michael Caputo has decided to take 60 days “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family”, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
Fiercely loyal to Donald Trump, Caputo had been serving as the department’s top spokesman, a post that usually is not overtly political. He was installed by the White House in April during a period of tense relations with the president’s health secretary, Alex Azar.
Caputo, who has no healthcare background, was the subject of news reports last weekend that he tried to gain editorial control over a scientific weekly published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was followed by reports about a video he hosted on his Facebook page in which he likened government scientists to a “resistance” against Trump and warned that shooting would break out if Trump won the election and Democrat Joe Biden refused to concede.
Caputo’s declarations came as Azar and other top healthcare officials are trying to convince skeptical Americans that science will have the final say in the approval of coronavirus vaccines. Senator Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, had called for his resignation; Republican senators remained publicly silent.
Caputo’s short tenure has been marked by devotion to Trump, disdain for Democrats and the media, along with some scientists, as well as hints that he felt personally hounded by political enemies.
In a taxpayer-funded HHS podcast on 31 July, he spoke of having “a target on my back”. Caputo also accused Democrats in the government, along with the news media, of not wanting a vaccine so as to punish the president.
An army veteran with a background in media, Caputo played a leading role in Trump’s 2016 New York state Republican primary victory and later moved over to the national campaign.
He has described himself as having a fraternal relationship with political operative Roger Stone, the longtime Trump ally whose 40-month sentence for witness tampering, false statements and obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian election interference was commuted by the president.
Stone is “like my big brother”, Caputo told the House intelligence committee in 2017. “We’re very different, but I love him very much.” He said he would talk to Stone every day.
At HHS, Caputo became closely involved with communications for Operation Warp Speed, the government’s effort to have coronavirus vaccines ready to ship to Americans once approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
His undoing seemed to come when he allegedly tried to exert influence over a CDC publication known as the MMWR, or Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report. MMWR articles are technical, but they have revealed telling details about the pandemic, sometimes seized upon by Trump’s critics.
On one of his HHS podcasts, Caputo unburdened himself to Dr Anthony Fauci about his own struggles with science as a young man. Caputo said he wanted to be an engineer, but wound up getting a journalism degree. Fauci is the government’s top infectious disease specialist.
“I’m science-stunted,” Caputo told Fauci. “I have a problem, I think, like most Americans. But now that I’ve been here for a little while, I understand that science is kind of an iterative process. And it’s one that eventually you arrive at the absolute truth.”
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