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How Michael Caputo Rocked Health and Human Services

Wagner was also involved in the agency’s implementation of blood plasma as a treatment for coronavirus, an episode that ultimately led FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to apologize for making claims that overestimated the benefits of the treatment. Caputo this month reassigned Wagner to work in the department’s preparedness and response agency on efforts to speed up a coronavirus vaccine.

Meanwhile, at the CDC, he punctuated an ongoing feud with the agency by helping install the agency’s new senior communications officer in June at short notice to the agency’s senior leadership team.

That official ̵

1; Nina Witkofsky, who previously worked as a communications contractor helping to arrange travel for Verma – became the CDC chief of staff in August. Witkofsky did not respond to a request for comment on his work or communications with Caputo.

But Caputo’s assistant who attracted the most controversy was Paul Alexander, an unpaid part-time professor at McMaster University. Alexander, whose departure was abruptly reported by HHS along with Caputo’s medical leave, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Promoted as Caputo’s science assistant to a newly created role this spring, Alexander spent months berating government scientists and trying to edit science bulletins written by the Centers for Disease Control, the agency’s famous weekly morbidity and mortality reports or MMWR. , as reported by POLITICO on Friday. .

In the emails, Alexander attacked CDC scientists for attempting to “hurt the president” by allegedly distorting their newsletters and trying to undermine Trump’s optimistic message about the pandemic. The behavior was a habit for Alexander: last week he attempted to prevent infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci from discussing the risks of coronavirus to children, and the Washington Post in July reported on Alexander’s previous efforts to chastise children. CDC officials.

But Alexander had a powerful protector – Caputo, who shared his advisor’s belief that a “deep state” within the government was working to harm Trump ahead of the election.

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After Friday’s POLITICAL report, Caputo found himself in a new position: rather than fix the story, Caputo was the story.

Prominent public health experts have criticized his team’s efforts to modify carefully controlled and strictly non-partisan scientific texts.

MMWRs are “must read, especially during a pandemic,” Rich Besser, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former interim head of the CDC, wrote in Scientific American. “Intruding, delaying or politicizing these relationships would be a form of scientific blasphemy and a breach of public trust that could undermine the nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus.”

Meanwhile, career officials within the HHS were horrified that their work could be distorted by a career policy advisor who was trying to protect the president.

Even some Trump officials who privately admired Caputo’s style – praising his efforts to confront critics of the administration and attack the media – felt he went too far in trying to modify scientific documents.

“The problem with this guy is that he doesn’t know where the red line is,” said a senior official who believed some of Caputo’s hardball tactics were justified. “Or maybe he sees the red line and he’s like a bull, he loads on it.”

Besieged by critics and haunted by a personal health issue, Caputo took on a defiant tone in a Facebook Live video he shared with friends Sunday night, first reported by the New York Times.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Caputo said in the video. “Do you know why? Because the president of the United States supports me.”

But the video morphed into conspiracy thinking – as Caputo spouted theories about “assassination squads” organized by Trump opponents and urged militia members to stock up on ammunition in the event of contested elections – and presented broad riffs on the frustrations of The chief spokesman Caputo with Washington, DC also filed more than a dozen attacks on scientists whose work he was nominally named to promote.

“These scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, some of them are brain rot,” Caputo said. “They are working against Donald Trump as scientists.”

“There are scientists working for this government who don’t want America to heal,” Caputo said later in the nearly 30-minute video. “Not until after Joe Biden is president. As a matter of fact. I know because I heard … these people are all going to hell.”

On Monday, a House Oversight Subcommittee opened an investigation into Caputo’s efforts to interfere with CDC reports, demanding that he, Alexander, and other HHS officials show up for interviews next week.

Senior Democrats also called on Caputo to step down, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday asked Azar himself to step down for allowing Caputo and his team to pressure government scientists, among other criticisms. Meanwhile, several media outlets have delved into Caputo’s role at HHS, including his hometown newspaper, which found his administration lacking.

“Caputo’s ideas about managing a health crisis need to be grazed,” the Buffalo News wrote in an editorial Tuesday, urging him to step down immediately.

Amid the firestorm, Caputo assessed a potential departure from HHS, consulting with Azar and other senior officials on Tuesday about the logistics of a medical leave, four people familiar with the situation said. Some White House officials also began to conclude that Caputo had become a distraction and needed to leave, regardless of whether it was a health permit.

McMaster University has also tried to distance itself from Alexander, with a spokesperson who said he does not currently teach at the university nor has he been paid as a part-time assistant professor.

On Wednesday afternoon, the situation had become unbearable and HHS announced that Caputo was taking a 60-day medical absence. The spokesman’s exit potentially sidelined one of Trump’s most devoted allies in government at a particularly sensitive time: there are 48 days to go.

HHS also said Alexander would leave the department, although he did not provide further details.

Caputo himself spun his departure as a necessary move for his health, in a declaration where he praised Fauci, said he consulted with Trump and Azar about his next steps and needed to continue screenings for a recently discovered lymphatic problem.

“[E]The very American battle against COVID – in every city in every state of the nation – has come under enormous pressure. I’m just one of them, “Caputo said.” I learned so much in friendship with the doctors of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force. “

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