Former Donald Trump campaign official Michael Caputo, left, joined by his attorney Dennis C. Vacco (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite)
Caputo, the department’s top spokesman, apologized on Tuesday to his staff for a Facebook video in which he reportedly said scientists battling the coronavirus are conspiring against President Donald Trump and warned of shooting in America if Trump were to lose the November election.
Caputo, a fierce Trump loyalist who had no health care experience when he was appointed to the HHS job, had become a significant new problem for a White House that has struggled all year with its coronavirus response. Democrats on Capitol Hill had called for Caputo’s resignation.
His appointment at the health agency was seen as an attempt by the White House to exert more control over Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whom other administration officials were trying to blame for the government’s slow response in the initial weeks of the pandemic.
Caputo can be heard on an HHS podcast asserting that Democrats do not want a coronavirus vaccine before the election in order to punish Trump. Although Trump has made the same assertion, with no evidence to support it, such broadsides are not in a department spokesman’s normal portfolio.
News reports alleged last week that Caputo’s office tried to take over and muzzle a scientific weekly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that publishes what is supposed to be authoritative, unvarnished information about disease-fighting efforts, including, most importantly at present, COVID-19.
Then on Monday came an account of the video on Caputo’s personal Facebook page in which he accused government scientists of conspiring against Trump and suggested violence could break out after the Nov. 3 election.
It’s highly unusual to use an agency communications platform for such a blatantly political message.