HHS Official Under Fire For Comments About Scientists And Conspiracies
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
A top Trump administration official at the Department of Health and Human Services is under fire for a tirade in which he said that a resistance unit at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to bring down President Trump. He also claimed there could be a left-wing insurrection after the election. Michael Caputo became assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS in April. The New York Times first reported these statements he made on Facebook Live, and NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here to tell us more.
And, Selena, what exactly happened, and where and what did Caputo say?
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: So the video was on Caputo's Facebook page. It's been taken down. But Caputo confirmed to NPR that he did the Facebook Live event, that it was filmed from his porch in Buffalo, N.Y., when he was home with his two daughters nearby. He told NPR he's been doing these for years. He's also a frequent guest on conservative talk radio and has hosted several podcasts. According to The New York Times, the video was 26 minutes long and contained comments that scientists, quote, "deep in the bowels of the CDC" walked around, quote, "like they are monks" but that they did, quote, "rotten science." He also urged his audience at one point to buy ammunition because it could be hard to get if there is violence after the election.
PFEIFFER: This is an administration official. Could you give us some context on him? Who exactly is Michael Caputo?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. He's often described as a Trump loyalist. He has a long history in Republican politics and public relations. He's actually mentioned in the Mueller Report. He connected a Russian national who said he had info on Hillary Clinton to Roger Stone for a meeting. And I should say what's described in this recent diatribe is really not new for Caputo. There's a podcast he hosted until recently called "Still Standing" in which he said similar things to what's now getting so much attention. The left-leaning outlet Media Matters first reported on these episodes, including one on March 13 in which he says Democrats are hoping the destruction from coronavirus will help them take power away from President Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STILL STANDING")
MICHAEL CAPUTO: How much does our economy have to die, and how many Americans have to die, for these Democrats to get what they want?
PFEIFFER: And, Selena, Caputo had already been under fire after reports last week in Politico that his aide Paul Alexander has been attempting to delay and edit CDC public health reports to match President Trump's messaging. Tell us a bit about that.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes. NPR has confirmed that Caputo and Alexander at HHS, which is the parent agency of CDC, did attempt to exert control over Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. And there was huge outcry over the weekend in response to that Politico story. These are supposed to be sacrosanct, science-based reports. And there have been many that have informed the COVID response. So congressional Democrats are now investigating what happened there.
PFEIFFER: What does this all mean for the status of Caputo's job?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: We'll have to see. Democratic lawmakers - including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking member on the Health Committee - have called for Caputo's resignation. White House and HHS have not responded to requests for comment from NPR. Congressional Republicans have been pretty silent, but Sen. Rubio told NPR there is no evidence of an insurgency. And if Caputo was not joking about that, quote, "someone should talk to the guy." Politico reported today that Caputo apologized to HHS staff for his comments and said he was meeting with Azar later, which could mean he's going to resign or take leave. We just don't know yet. We'll have to wait and see.
PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.