September 15, 2020 at 4:34 PM EDT
Caputo apologizes to HHS staff for inflammatory remarks about armed insurrection
The top Department of Health and Human Services communications official apologized to staff Tuesday for incendiary remarks he made this week in which he called for President Trump’s supporters to prepare for an armed insurrection after a contested election and accused government scientists of “sedition,” according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, which oversees the coronavirus response, leveled the accusations and promoted other conspiracy theories in a Facebook Live event Sunday. White House officials were in discussion with top department officials, including HHS Secretary Alex Azar, on Tuesday about Caputo’s future, said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Caputo apologized for his remarks and the embarrassment they brought upon HHS and said he was considering a medical leave. He also said his family had been receiving threats and that his physical health was in question.
Caputo and HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Politico first reported Tuesday’s meeting.
Caputo, a Trump loyalist, has sought to exert control over the messages coming from scientists and top health officials since being installed at the agency in April by the White House.
Democrats called for his resignation Monday — and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for Azar’s resignation Tuesday — after reports over the weekend detailed how Caputo and a top aide in his office, Paul Alexander, interfered in the weekly scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the Morbidity and Mortality reports.
McMaster University in Ontario, where Alexander is an assistant professor, sought to distance itself from him Monday.
“While Paul Alexander graduated with a PhD in health research methodologies from McMaster in 2015, he is not currently teaching, and he is not paid by the university for his contract role as a part-time assistant professor,” said Susan Emigh, a spokeswoman at McMaster University. “As a consultant, he is not speaking on behalf of McMaster University or the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact.”
By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey