WASHINGTON - A top U.S. spokesman on the coronavirus is taking a leave of absence after accusing government scientists of “sedition” and alleging their handling of the pandemic was meant to undermine President Donald Trump.
In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Michael Caputo, the agency’s assistant secretary of public affairs. will be on leave for the next 60 days “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family.”
Caputo contended without evidence Sunday that a “resistance unit” of medical personnel “deep in the bowels” of the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to defeat Trump, even if it means the U.S.’s world-leading coronavirus death toll of more than 196,000 continues to rise.
He accused the scientists of abandoning science to become “political animals.”
On Tuesday, he apologized to co-workers.
Caputo has drawn intense criticism in Washington for attempting to alter the CDC’s weekly reports on U.S. coronavirus infections and deaths to adhere to Trump’s repeated assertions that the pandemic is under control and that a vaccine will soon be available, possibly before the election on Nov. 3, when Trump faces former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden for a four-year term in the White House.
Caputo voiced a string of bizarre and unsupported accusations on Facebook Live and in subsequent newspaper interviews, saying his physical health has declined and his “mental health has definitely failed.”
Caputo, 58, expressed fears for his personal safety at the hands of Trump foes, telling his supporters, “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
The coronavirus spokesman was named by the White House in April to oversee the government’s often disjointed response to the pandemic. Months ago, Trump acknowledged to journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally misled Americans by depicting the virus as nothing much worse than the seasonal flu in order to avoid a panic in the country as the airborne virus swept into the U.S. from China.
Woodward’s new book “Rage” recounts how U.S. intelligence officials had earlier warned Trump that the coronavirus would be the most serious national security threat of his presidency.
Caputo’s belief that career government experts are working to thwart Trump’s reelection in his campaign against Biden echoes the president’s years- long claim that a “deep state" within the Washington bureaucracy is trying to undermine him.
Trump has often assailed what he sees as the Washington political opposition — Democratic lawmakers, the national news media and long-entrenched civil servants.
Caputo claimed CDC scientists “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump next. There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”
Caputo described his own dismay with life working for the government.
“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment. There alone, shadows are so long.”
He said the mounting number of COVID-19 deaths was taking a toll on him.
Caputo told The Washington Post that “since joining the administration, my family and I have been continually threatened, and in and out of criminal court dealing with harassment prosecutions. This weighs heavily on us, and we deeply appreciate the friendship and support of President Trump as we address these matters and keep our children safe.”
The White House had no comment on Caputo’s claims. He deactivated his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts on Monday, while HHS called him “a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”