Wagner also participated in the agency’s misplacement of blood plasma as treatment for coronavirus, an episode that eventually led FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to apologize for claiming to be exaggerating the benefits of the treatment. Caputo reassigned Wagner this month to work in the department’s preparedness and response agency in efforts to precipitate a coronavirus vaccine.
Meanwhile, at the CDC, he pointed to an ongoing dispute with the agency helping to install the agency’s new chief communications officer in June with little notice to the agency’s senior management team.
That official, Nina Witkofsky, who had previously worked as a communications contractor helping organize trips for Verma, became the acting chief of staff of the CDC in August. Witkofsky did not respond to any requests for comment on his work or his communications with Caputo.
But Caputo̵7;s assistant who attracted the most controversy was Paul Alexander, a part-time professor at McMaster University, unpaid. Alexander, whose departure was reported by HHS along with Caputo’s medical leave, did not immediately respond to the request for comment.
Continued as Caputo’s scientific assistant in a newly created role this spring, Alexander spent months denouncing government scientists and attempting to publish scientific bulletins written by the Centers for Disease Control, the agency’s famous weekly morbidity and mortality report, or MMWR. according to POLITICO, Friday. .
In emails, Alexander attacked CDC scientists for trying to “hurt the president” by allegedly biasing his bulletins and trying to undermine Trump’s optimistic message about the pandemic. Behavior was a habit for Alexander: last week he tried to prevent infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci from discussing coronavirus risks for children, and the Washington Post in July reported on Alexander’s early efforts to punish children. CDC officials.
But Alexander had a powerful protector: Caputo, who shared his adviser’s belief that a “deep state” within the government was working to harm Trump before the election.
* * *
After Friday’s POLITICO report, Caputo was in a new position: instead of solving history, Caputo was history.
Prominent public health experts denied his team’s efforts to change scientific texts strictly apart and rigorously examined.
MMWRs are “a must-read, especially during a pandemic,” Rich Besser, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former CDC acting chief, wrote to Scientific American. “Entertaining, delaying or politicizing these reports would be a form of scientific blasphemy, as well as a breach of public confidence that could undermine the nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, career officials within HHS were horrified that their work could be distorted by a career political consultant trying to protect the president.
Even some Trump nominees who admired Caputo’s style in private, praising his efforts to save himself from administration critics and attacking the media, felt he had gone too far in seeking to edit scientific papers. .
“The problem with this guy is that he doesn’t know where the red line is,” said a senior official who believed some of Caputo’s hardball tactics were justified. “Or maybe he sees the red line and it’s like a bull, he charges it.”
Harassed by critics and haunted by a personal health concern, Caputo set a challenging tone in a Facebook Live video he shared with friends on Sunday night, the New York Times first reported.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Caputo said in the video. “Do you know why? Because the president of the United States supports me.”
But the video became the thought of the conspiracy, as Caputo launched theories about the “success squads” organized by Trump opponents and urged militia members to stockpile ammunition in the event of an election in dispute – and presented broad riffs over Caputo’s frustrations with Washington, DC The top spokesman also launched more than a dozen attacks on scientists whose work was nominally hired to promote.
“These scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, some of them have rotted from the brain,” Caputo said. “They’re working against Donald Trump as scientists.”
“There are scientists working for this government who don’t want the United States to get well,” Caputo said later in the nearly 30-minute video. “It’s not until Joe Biden is president. It’s a fact. I know because I’ve heard it … all these people are going to hell.”
On Monday, a House oversight subcommittee opened an investigation into Caputo’s efforts to get involved in CDC reports, requesting that he, Alexander and other HHS officials present interviews next week.
Senior Democrats also called for Caputo’s resignation, and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday demanded Azar himself resign to allow Caputo and his team to pressure government scientists, among other criticisms. Meanwhile, several media outlets delved into Caputo’s role at HHS, including his hometown newspaper, which found his administration lacking.
“Caputo’s ideas about managing a health crisis should be used to graze,” Buffalo News wrote on Tuesday in an editorial urging him to resign immediately.
In the midst of the firestorm, Caputo weighed in on a possible exit from HHS, consulting Tuesday Azar and other senior officials on the logistics of a medical leave, four people close to the situation said. Some White House officials also began to conclude that Caputo had become a distraction and that he had to leave, whether he was on medical leave or not.
McMaster University also tried to distance itself from Alexander, with a spokesman saying he currently does not teach at the university or has been remunerated as a part-time assistant professor.
On Wednesday afternoon, the situation had become unsustainable and HHS announced that Caputo was being medically absent for 60 days. The spokesman’s departure may set aside one of Trump’s most devoted allies in government at a particularly sensitive time: elections are 48 days away.
HHS also said Alexander was leaving the department, though he did not provide further details.
Caputo himself turned his departure as a necessary move for his health, in a statement praising Fauci, saying he had consulted with Trump and Azar on his next steps and needed to make projections for a recent lymphatic problem. uncovered.
“[E]the struggle against the very American COVID, in all the cities of all the states of the nation, has been subjected to enormous pressure. I’m one of them, “Caputo said.” I learned a lot in friendship with the doctors in the president’s coronavirus working group. “