Trump HHS spokesman apologizes for Facebook-posted attack on his agency—sort of
Over the weekend, multiple news outlets reported on Trump-appointed Health and Human Services (HHS) communications head Michael Caputo and aide Paul Alexander’s repeated efforts to distort or block key scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in part through blistering and insulting emails accusing CDC scientists of writing “hit pieces” intended to damage Donald Trump (by disproving Trump’s pandemic claims).
This was the apparent impetus for Caputo himself to go on an apoplectic Facebook mega-rant in which he claimed the CDC harbored a “deep state”-based “resistance unit,” urged Trump supporters to “buy ammunition” to defend against what he believed could be a Joe Biden-led coup, claimed a shooting that left a pro-Trump militia member dead in Portland, Oregon was a “drill” preparing for such a coup, and generally going the full Alex Jones, at one point confessing that his “mental health has definitely failed.” He wasn’t kidding on that one.
This morning Caputo apparently attempted some cleanup. Politico reports Caputo called an “emergency staff meeting” inside the HHS to apologize for claiming there was a “resistance unit” inside the CDC, and claimed “physical health issues” and “death threats against his family” for his behavior.
He also informed them that he was meeting with department secretary Alex Azar about his outburst, and Politico reports he has told some around him he is considering taking a medical leave from his office, and concluded the meeting by “encouraging his staff to listen to music by the Grateful Dead.”
Umm … all right, then.
What’s not clear, at all, is whether Caputo apologized for anything other than his weekend outbursts; there’s no word, for example, that he apologized for his office’s continued attacks on and belittling of agency scientists with paranoid claims that the agency’s pandemic research findings are intended as “hit pieces” to attack Trump’s reopening plans, or for his office’s flat lies claiming there to be “zero” evidence of children transmitting the virus to adults or other children despite a CDC study demonstrating exactly such transmission. In other words, it appears Caputo is apologizing for an outburst that makes him, personally, look exceptionally bad, but not for a pandemic-long campaign to stifle agency pandemic research seen as insufficiently deferential to Donald Trump’s own proclamations and egregiously false claims.
He’s apologizing for “drawing negative attention to the Trump administration’s health care strategy,” according to Politico. He’s not apologizing for his role in blocking public knowledge of the true pandemic dangers in schools, universities, and elsewhere—actions on his part that almost certainly led to increased U.S. pandemic deaths.
Whether Caputo will be taking a “medical leave” after his Facebook outburst remains to be seen—and does not necessarily mean his installed, equally conspiracy-laced team will put a pause on their own attacks on agency scientists. Caputo has “long complained of the stress caused by having been mentioned in the special counsel’s investigation” on Russian election interference, an anonymous someone tells Politico, but that is the most innocent-sounding possible reference to Caputo’s actual involvement in the Russian-Trump campaign connections investigated by former Special Counsel to the Justice Department Robert Mueller.
As Marcy Wheeler points out in response to the current contretemps, Caputo isn’t some minor figure “mentioned” in Mueller’s report. Caputo came to the Trump campaign as a close ally to Roger Stone and was allegedly Trump ex-campaign head Paul Manafort’s connection to Stone, suggesting Caputo was Manafort’s source for hearing about Stone’s attempted coordinations with the Russian hackers.
Caputo’s anonymous defender cites “stress caused by having been mentioned in the special counsel’s investigation” as one reason for Caputo’s behavior. The more technically accurate phrasing might be “stress caused by multiple ongoing investigations launched by Mueller’s team that appear to have direct links to Caputo’s own campaign work.”
Also, Caputo’s pre-Trump jobs have included—and this is not a joke, newcomers—working for Russian state energy company Gazprom to boost Russian president Vladimir Putin’s public image in the United States, with additional work in Ukrainian parliamentary politics. (Caputo is now a promoter of Rudy Giuliani’s Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theories, by the way. In case that was not self-evident from his list of former employers.)
So yes, you can see how Mueller’s focused attention on such ties might stress someone out, send them into panics about the “deep state,” and, um, urge listeners to buy ammunition in case they have to shoot Americans trying to remove Trump from power. Or something.
We’ll have to wait for the outcome here. Caputo’s pattern of behavior towards agency scientists is one that Trump’s team explicitly wants from their subordinates, so there’s not a chance in hell that he will be getting in true career trouble for that, or for his role in watering down or delaying agency reports believed to contradict Trump’s personal views. He will only be fired if Team Trump determines that his unhinged behavior is causing more damage to Trump than his behind-the-scenes agency sabotage can make up for.
The notion that Caputo’s attacks on the “deep state” of government-backed scientific research are due to “medical” troubles, though, feels like an insulting cop-out. Caputo’s problems are not medical. Caputo’s problems are that he put onto videotape the same outrageous conspiracy claims he’s been using to sabotage the government on Trump’s behalf, erasing whatever plausible deniability he was once able to hide behind.