HHS spokesperson apologizes to staff for accusing government scientists of sedition

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Caputo – a fierce advocate for the president who was appointed to his post as HHS assistant secretary for public affairs shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – mentioned a series of conspiracy theories in a live video Sunday on his personal Facebook page, including that there is a “resistance unit” against Trump within the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caputo claimed he believed former Vice President Joe Biden would refuse to concede the election if Trump won, and political violence would ensue.

A source familiar with the matter said Caputo presented himself as a victim in his apology, but apologized for putting HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a bad light.

Caputo’s status at HHS is uncertain at this point and he was already walking on thin ice at the agency before the revelations on his Facebook comments, a second source familiar with the situation said. It is not known if action to get Caputo out of his current position is imminent, the source added, but discussions regarding Caputo’s future are ongoing. The first source said Caputo did not mention his future in the apology.

A third source familiar with the matter said Caputo apologized to HHS staff on Tuesday morning because he embarrassed them, especially career managers, and he felt bad about it. He also apologized to Azar on Tuesday for putting the secretary in a position of having to deal with the fallout from Caputo’s comments, the source said.

The source added that it is possible that Caputo will take time off work to deal with a medical issue, but a final decision has not been made.Caputo faces potential health issues that could force him to step down, according to a fourth source familiar with the situation. Politico was the first to report on Caputo’s apology, and the New York Times was the first to report he was considering time off.

A source close to the White House coronavirus task force said Azar had been unhappy with Caputo for some time as deputy secretary. The source close to the White House said Caputo, who is a longtime Trump political agent, has been coerced into Azar and the latest controversy is unlikely to help his position with the secretary.

During his Sunday evening, Caputo lambasted the CDC, baselessly claiming that scientists “deep in the bowels of the CDC have given up science and become political animals.”

Scientists “haven’t taken out of their sweatpants except for meetings in cafes” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump next,” Caputo added.

Caputo claimed he was under attack by the media, that his physical health was in question and that his “sanity had definitely failed”. The Times reported that it “looked distressed” at the country’s coronavirus death toll – which has reached more than 195,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. He warned those in the video to wear masks during the president’s election rallies.

Caputo also said he intends to stay in his post because the president is backing him.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Caputo said in the video. “I swear to God, as God is my witness, I don’t stop. ”

Caputo declined to discuss the matter further in a brief telephone interview with CNN later Monday, except to say he made the comments as he was facing some of the pressure the harassment caused on himself. and his family over the past few days. He added that the harassment included what he considered to be death threats.

The fallout that followed his Facebook rant on Sunday is one of the double controversies surrounding Caputo. A federal health official told CNN on Saturday that amid tensions between the administration and the CDC, Caputo and his team had demanded to see the CDC’s weekly science reports before they were released.

HHS officials had defended the request, saying the CDC fell under the agency’s umbrella and all communications and public documents should be cleared at the top.

Politico first pointed out the pressure on the CDC over these reports.

This story was updated with additional reports on Tuesday.

CNN’s Caroline Kelly, Devan Cole, Nick Valencia and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

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