Top HHS spokesman Michael Caputo called an emergency staff meeting on Tuesday to apologize for leveling a series of false accusations on Facebook Live over the weekend, according to three people with knowledge of the meeting.
Caputo told staffers that his remarks — which included unfounded allegations the Centers for Disease Control was harboring a “resistance unit” — reflected poorly on HHS’ communications office. He also blamed his recent behavior on a combination of physical health issues and the toll of fielding death threats against his family.
Caputo also said he is scheduled to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar later Tuesday, the people with knowledge of the meeting said.
The session left some staffers with the impression that Caputo would soon step aside as the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, the three people with knowledge of the meeting said, though they cautioned that his fate remained in flux. During the meeting, Caputo made allusions to the fact that HHS had functioned for a long time in the past without a permanent top communications official.
One former HHS official separately told POLITICO that Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who has long complained of the stress caused by having been mentioned in the special counsel’s investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election, was mulling taking medical leave.
HHS declined to comment.
The meeting came in the wake of a tumultuous week for Caputo, a close ally of President Donald Trump who was installed as HHS’ communications head earlier this year.
Caputo was at the center of a series of reports on political meddling with the department’s Covid-19 response, including POLITICO reports that he and top adviser Paul Alexander tried to influence key CDC scientific bulletins. Alexander, who was hired by Caputo in the spring, also pushed infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci to downplay the virus’ risk to children.
On Sunday, Caputo took to Facebook Live to level a series of wild and false accusations that warned of an armed insurrection after the election and asserted without evidence that public health officials were trying to undermine Trump’s reelection bid.
Several people inside and outside the administration subsequently raised concerns to Azar and the White House about the Facebook Live video.