Trump HHS official to take 'leave of absence' amid uproar

The top communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be taking a medical “leave of absence,” the agency announced Wednesday.

Michael Caputo will be focusing on “his health and the well-being of his family” for the next 60 days, HHS said.

A longtime Trump associate, Caputo was installed to manage communications at HHS in April after a series of critical reports about Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

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Caputo has been under fire for comments he made attacking career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for being anti-Trump.

In a Facebook Live video recorded last weekend, Caputo, who has been in charge of the administration’s coronavirus communications strategy, made a series of false and incendiary accusations about the CDC, which is a part of HHS. 

He claimed without evidence that the CDC was harboring a “resistance unit” opposing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn’t think he could’ve done more to stop virus spread Conservative activist Lauren Witzke wins GOP Senate primary in Delaware Trump defends claim coronavirus will disappear, citing ‘herd mentality’ MORE and accused government scientists of “sedition.” 

In the same video, he also warned Trump’s followers to prepare for an armed insurrection if Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenCoons beats back progressive Senate primary challenger in Delaware Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Biden campaign manager touts ‘multiple pathways’ to victory MORE loses the election and refuses to concede.

“If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” Caputo said in remarks first reported by The New York Times.

Caputo has not publicly apologized for his remarks, but he did call an emergency meeting to apologize to agency staff on Tuesday for drawing attention away from the administration’s health care messaging.

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An HHS official said Caputo claimed some of his comments have been taken out of context, but would not elaborate on which ones.

At the same time, HHS said Caputo’s top adviser, Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department entirely.

Alexander and Caputo reportedly tried to pressure CDC scientists over their weekly reports on the coronavirus pandemic. According to Politico, Alexander also tried to push National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump defends claim coronavirus will disappear, citing ‘herd mentality’ Schumer calls for Azar to resign over ‘chaos’ in coronavirus response Trump says he read ‘boring’ Woodward book ‘very quickly’ MORE to downplay the risk of the coronavirus to children.

During a Senate hearing Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield pushed back on Caputo’s comments, telling lawmakers that the allegation “not only is it not true, it deeply saddened me when I read those comments.”

“CDC is made up of thousands of dedicated men and women, highly competent, it is the premier public health agency in the world,” Redfield said.

“It deeply saddened me that those false accusations were made [about] a group of really unbelievably professional people that serve this nation,” he added.

HHS said Ryan Murphy, currently the principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, will lead the day-to-day operations of the office during Caputo’s absence.

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