Health and Human Services communications chief Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence after he had a public meltdown in which he warned of “insurrection” this past weekend.
HHS announced the development in a statement, saying that Caputo’s leave would last for the next 60 days in order for him “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family.”
An aide to Caputo, Paul Alexander, is leaving HHS permanently.
Alexander has spent the past few months attempting to interfere with the Centers for Disease Control’s weekly reports on the spread of COVID-19, at Caputo’s behest.
Caputo did not immediately return a request for comment from TPM.
Caputo’s leave of absence would have him returning to HHS on Nov. 15, after the election.
The former Roger Stone driver held forth in a bizarre and troubling Facebook live broadcast Sunday in which he said that a “resistance unit” at the CDC was targeting him and his family.
Those unhinged remarks came in the wake of extensive reporting showing that Caputo and Alexander had tried to assert editorial control over the CDC’s weekly epidemiological reports, accusing the disease-fighting agency of using the reports to smear President Trump.
Caputo’s arrival at HHS in April heralded the unprecedented politicization of the country’s response to COVID-19, with President Trump exhorting the country’s public health agencies to take steps that either minimize the true spread of the deadly illness or sacrifice the efficacy of tools to fight the disease at the expense of the needs of his own re-election campaign.
The longtime GOP communications consultant has become known for his loud role in that effort, screaming at reporters during one June 2020 call that they had been “spun up” on a story about testing sites being closed.
Caputo apologized for his latest outburst involving “sedition” accusations to HHS employees on Tuesday, and hinted that he would take a medical leave of absence. No medical condition has been specified.
House Democrats are also investigating a $250 million contract awarded “to defeat despair and inspire hope” about the pandemic. Caputo claimed this week that President “put [him] in charge” of the public affairs campaign.
Caputo’s leave comes after several top Democrats demanded his resignation, and after pressure mounted on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to dismiss him.
There’s nothing to suggest that Caputo’s departure, however temporary, will change anything in the Trump adminsitration’s response to the pandemic as a whole, or specifically that of HHS and CDC.
Rather, Caputo’s frothing about “insurrection” and Maoist “hit squads” left him as a liability for an administration set on contorting the needs of public health to Trump’s re-election.