Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary of public affairs, reportedly held an emergency meeting with Health and Human Services staffers after he claimed that a “resistance unit” of “seditious” government scientists at the CDC are working to undermine President Trump during a Facebook livestream.
According to people with knowledge of the meeting who spoke with Politico on Tuesday, Caputo told HHS staffers that he will meet with HHS Secretary Alex Azar later in the day and that he acknowledged that his remarks over the weekend reflect poorly on the department’s communications office.
Caputo also blamed his histrionic remarks on a combination of health issues and death threats against his family — reiterating a claim he made during his Facebook livestream that his own life is at risk because, he claims, his family has been “continually threatened” since he joined the administration in April.
Politico reported that the meeting left some HHS staffers under the impression that he would resign as the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, citing three people with knowledge of the meeting. However, the HHS staffers noted that Caputo’s fate has yet to be determined.
According to Politico, Caputo alluded to the HHS’ history of going without a permanent top communications official for a long time. One former HHS official who spoke to Politico separately said that Caputo was weighing going on medical leave.
The emergency meeting Caputo, a longtime vocal Trump loyalist who has no background in health care, held with HHS staffers also comes amid reports over the weekend of Caputo’s attempts to skew weekly bulletins from the CDC to fit Trump’s baseless assertions that the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding.
On Monday, Senate health committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) posted a series of tweets urging Azar to demand the resignation of Caputo in light of his wild and unfounded claims against scientists at the CDC. Murray’s tweets came shortly after the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus announced an investigation into efforts by political appointees at HHS to “block the publication of accurate scientific reports” by the CDC amid the coronavirus crisis that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans thus far.
The next day, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took Murray’s demand a step further by calling on Azar to resign amid reports on a series of controversies at the department. During a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Schumer ripped into Azar for failing to “push back against these outrageous moves” by President Trump, which include pressuring HHS to slow COVID-19 testing down.
“(Azar) has been almost entirely silent about the chaos and mismanagement in his own agency,” Schumer said.