‘Help the president’: HHS official sought to rename coronavirus campaign


The campaign oversight official – Michael Caputo, whom Trump personally selected as the Health Department’s senior spokesperson – also sought to cancel career officials assigned to the campaign, directly urging contractors to step up. producing commercials with celebrities like Trump supporting actor Antonio Sabato. , Jr.

“We need to film them as soon as possible – we need the content in the box now,” Caputo wrote in an email to contractors on September 13, three days before taking medical leave from the health department. A federal official later removed Caputo from the email chain and reiterated that only two career officials in the chain could provide “actionable guidance” to entrepreneurs on how to proceed.

Caputo also launched the idea of ​​framing the advertising campaign around aid to the president. He made the suggestion during a meeting with communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe, positioning it as an effort to encourage the Trump base to adhere to public health concepts such as wearing masks, according to dated notes. September 17 and provided to the committee. “Caputo talks about ‘slogans’ and high level concepts,” noted the entrepreneurs.

Burson, who is the campaign’s subcontractor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has since ordered a review of the campaign – which two HHS officials told POLITICO are no longer expected to run before the election, if at all – the monitoring leaders House officials said the administration had not complied with requests to produce separate internal documents relating to the campaign.

“Your inability to provide the documents we requested – especially in light of information we learned from the contractors – appears to be part of a cover-up to cover up the Trump administration’s misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars. taxpayer dollars for future partisan political purposes. upcoming elections, and direct taxpayer funds to friends and allies of Trump administration officials, ”wrote Reps Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.), Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) Azar in a cover letter.

HHS did not respond to specific questions about the relevance of interventions by Caputo, who led the scrutiny of celebrity political positions and other questions about the campaign’s reach.

“The review is ongoing,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement. “The plan has always been to only use materials reviewed by a department-wide team of experts, including scientists from the CDC, who will ensure that the latest scientific information is used to provide important information. on public health, treatments and vaccines.

The spokesperson said Azar was unaware of Caputo’s close involvement in the campaign. The spokesperson also said that “HHS has maintained an open line of communication with members of Congress and we will continue to regularly and proactively update members and their staff.

All but one of the documents released by the House committee on Thursday were uncovered by their investigation into the health department’s work with Atlas Research, which found that POLITICO had won a separate contract worth around $ 15 million a year. week before awarding a $ 250 million contract to a strategic communications company. Fors Marsh.


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