Before Michael Caputo was appointed spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, he appeared on a right-wing cable network, where he urged President Donald Trump to pardon associates convicted of crimes related to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, seemed to suggest the government may kill GOP political operative Roger Stone in jail, and alleged the motivation behind impeachment was to protect former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter from being convicted of a crime.
Caputo, a former 2016 Trump campaign adviser and longtime New York Republican political operative, was appointed assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS last week, placing him at the epicenter of the government’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
I’m delighted to have Michael Caputo join our team at @HHSGov as our Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, especially at this critical time in our nation’s public health history. pic.twitter.com/xf2YFeXzqy
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) April 15, 2020
Prior to being sworn in at HHS, Caputo made occasional appearances from 2018 to 2020 on One America News Network, a right-wing cable channel favored by the president for its unabashed pro-Trump flair and known for broadcasting inaccurate information. Reached via email, Caputo told Right Wing Watch that he once held the role of “special correspondent” with the network after it purchased, edited, and aired a ”documentary” film he produced called “One America News Investigates – The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, And Mass Murder With Michael Caputo.” He told Right Wing Watch that he only held the special correspondent position for the duration of that project.
But visitors to OANN’s website will have a hard time finding Caputo’s work with the network, except for a January press release for Captuo’s film. Jay McKenzie, and independent researcher who tracks major pro-Trump influencers online, first noticed that a tag page on OANN’s site assigned to Caputo currently displays no content. Archived copies of the tag page accessed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine show the page as having previously had content displayed as early as May 2018 and as recent as January 2020.
“When [Caputo] was hired as the new HHS spokesman, I looked for those interviews on OANN’s website but couldn’t find anything. That’s when I decided to search for them in the Wayback Machine archives,” McKenzie said.
Caputo said he was unaware of content-related decisions at OANN. Charles Herring, the network’s president, told Right Wing Watch that older news stories and programming on OANN’s website are “constantly being removed and replace[d] with more relevant content.”
“We are not currently airing any programming featured Mr. Caputo, and he is not a staff member. Any implications that there is an effort to remove content based on some nefarious intent is simply inaccurate,” Herring said.
Although articles featuring Caputo are no longer listed on OANN’s website, the network’s YouTube channel still hosts several segments featuring Caputo. Right Wing Watch conducted a review of those segments and found that Caputo often encouraged and engaged in fringe pro-Trump rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
Caputo was frequently tapped as a source by OANN to comment on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and on the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry. During a June 2018 interview, Caputo asserted that there was “no compelling evidence” that Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russia “in any way” and accused Democrats of “slow-walking” the investigation to make sure it remained “a political issue” throughout the 2018 midterm elections.
In a March 2019 interview, Caputo was interviewed by Jack Posobiec, a far-right “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist hired by OANN as a political host and reporter, and said that he believed Trump should “immediately” pardon Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and George Papadopoulos—all of whom had been charged with crimes during the Russia investigation—“in one fell swoop.”
“We know for a fact that there is too much evidence, so much evidence, that there is some kind of conspiracy to stop the Republican candidate for president, to spy on his team, and after he got elected president to try to get rid of him, to try to run him out of office,” Caputo said in that interview.
Later that year, in a November 2019 interview, Caputo joined Posobiec again to discuss the felony conviction of Stone, a longtime Trump associate and campaign adviser. Caputo said that federal officials had “criminalized the campaign of 2016” and “created a crime scene where politics resides today.” In the same interview, Caputo encouraged Trump to “pardon Roger Stone right now on Twitter” and seemed to suggest that federal officials could harm or kill Stone in jail.
“If they put Roger Stone in jail on Feb. 4, I can’t tell you he’ll survive it until [after the 2020 election]. The same people who put Roger Stone in jail have done some very serious things to other people that were in jail,” Caputo told Posobiec. “From my perspective, he’s not safe.”
Caputo declined to elaborate on his prior comments about pardons to Right Wing Watch or answer whether he would seek to encourage Trump to pardon his former campaign associates.
Calling Stone his “big brother,” Caputo told Right Wing Watch, “As much as I love and worry about my big brother, it is no longer appropriate for me to comment on his situation. I’m focused on the pandemic, only the pandemic, and I’m blessed to be here.”
In late 2019, Caputo began appearing on OANN more frequently to promote his film, “One America News Investigates – The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, And Mass Murder With Michael Caputo,” which eventually premiered on OANN in January 2020. In a January 2020 interview with Posobiec, Caputo said that making the film led him to believe that the impeachment of Trump was done to protect Hunter Biden from being convicted of a crime.
“This whole impeachment isn’t just about protecting Joe Biden. It’s about keeping Hunter Biden out of prison, because what he did by lobbying his father—which I think I can prove—and by lobbying Secretary of State John Kerry with his partner Devin Archer—very closely connected to the Kerry family—he lobbied to protect the oligarch who owned Burisma,” Caputo said.
Caputo’s appointment to HHS spokesperson has renewed scrutiny of his past public comments.
CNN’s KFile reported Thursday that Caputo, in since-deleted tweets, “made racist and derogatory comments about Chinese people, said Democrats wanted the coronavirus to kill millions of people and accused the media of intentionally creating panic around the pandemic to hurt President Donald Trump.” Caputo reportedly deleted his entire Twitter history prior to April 12.
Update: After the publication of this article, Caputo told Right Wing Watch that for the past three years he has deleted his tweets monthly “to provoke leftists.”