Update: The Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that Michael Caputo would be taking medical leave for 60 days, while Paul Alexander, a controversial aide, will be leaving permanently, the Washington Post reported Wednesday afternoon.
Michael Caputo, described by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a “critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response,” posted a Facebook Live video Sunday in which he lashed out at scientists, reporters, and Democrats, claiming that political opponents of President Donald Trump are training “hit squads” to forestall a second Trump term. “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said. Yahoo News posted a copy of Caputo’s Facebook video Tuesday.
Caputo theorized that “the shooting will begin” when Trump “refuses to stand down at the inauguration,” and he urged listeners to “buy ammunition,” warning that “it’s going to be hard to get.”
Caputo’s willingness to promote dangerously inflammatory conspiracy theories may be why the former Trump campaign official was hired by HHS as the HHS assistant secretary for public affairs in the first place, despite having no background in health care. Among his credentials for taking a central federal communications role during the COVID-19 pandemic were his relationship with a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, a record of making racist anti-Chinese comments and promoting right-wing conspiracy theories, and a friendship with Trump associate and far-right political operative Roger Stone, whom Caputo called his “big brother” in an email interview with Right Wing Watch.
Caputo is the subject of a congressional investigation into “whether political appointees have meddled with routine government scientific data to better align with Trump’s public statements about the coronavirus rhetoric,” according to Fox News. He accused federal scientists of engaging in “sedition.”
Caputo said during his Facebook livestream that his mental health has “definitely failed” under the strain of dealing with the pandemic, but later told CBS news that his mental health is “strong.”
Politico reported Tuesday that Caputo “called an emergency staff meeting” to apologize for making false accusations and “drawing negative attention to the Trump administration’s health care strategy.” According to Politico, “He blamed his recent behavior on a combination of physical health issues and the toll of fielding death threats against his family.”
“Caputo also acknowledged that he had never read one of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, despite his team’s ongoing efforts to try to edit those documents,” Politico reported.
Some Democratic leaders have called on Caputo to resign; Politico said that people with knowledge of the “emergency” staff meeting said he suggested that he might be departing soon.
As Right Wing Watch reported in April, Caputo described himself as a former “special correspondent” with One America News Network, a purveyor of far-right propaganda and inaccurate stories that has been given special treatment by White House officials. OANN bought and aired a Caputo “documentary” called “One America News Investigates—The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder with Michael Caputo.”
While Trump has occasionally expressed dissatisfaction with the level of loyalty and deference he felt he was getting from Fox News, Trump has anointed OANN with his blessing, elevating its profile and its ability to spread conspiracy theories to a wider audience. When Trump calls on OANN correspondent Chanel Rion—in the press room over the objection of the White House Correspondents Association—he knows he can count on the friendliest of questions.
Last year, in an interview with “Pizzagate” promoter and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec, Caputo said that Trump should pardon Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and everyone charged with crimes revealed by the Mueller investigation. In November, Caputo said that if Stone went to jail, he would not be safe, implying that federal officials could have him harmed or killed.
Right Wing Watch sent an email inquiry to Caputo seeking comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.