Updated Sep 16, 2020 - Health

Top HHS spokesperson takes leave of absence after accusing scientists of "sedition"

Michael walks down a hallway

Michael Caputo in Washington, D.C. in May 2018. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a 60 day leave of absence "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family," the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Caputo baselessly accused career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Facebook livestream on Sunday of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against President Trump, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He apologized to staff on Tuesday, according to Politico.

  • In the same Facebook livestream, Caputo — a former Trump campaign official with no scientific background — encouraged followers to buy ammunition in the event that Joe Biden loses the election and refuses to concede. "And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” Caputo said.
  • Caputo also said he feels his "mental health has definitely failed" in part due to critical media coverage, and sounded "anguished" over the coronavirus death toll, per the Times.

The big picture: Caputo's leave of absence comes on the tails of a House investigation into allegations that he and other political appointees pressured CDC officials "to block the publication of accurate scientific reports" on the coronavirus. Paul Alexander, Caputo's senior adviser, is leaving the department, HHS also announced.

  • Alexander is one of the political appointees to the HHS who "openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump's optimistic messages” on the coronavirus, Politico’s Dan Diamond reported last week, citing internal emails.
  • Alexander reportedly accused the authors of the CDC's weekly COVID-19 reports of trying to "hurt the President."
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