Michael Caputo announced he'll take a medical leave amid criticism after posting a video making conspiratorial claims

By Sean Neumann
September 17, 2020 06:00 PM
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Michael Caputo
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The top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday he would be taking a 60-day medical leave, days after being widely criticized for a bizarre video on social media in which he claimed government scientists were practicing "sedition" and warned of an armed revolt.

Michael Caputo, 58, said in a statement that he was taking the temporary leave of absence "to pursue necessary screenings for a lymphatic issue discovered last week." (The HHS confirmed his temporary departure in a separate statement to PEOPLE and other news outlets.)

CNN reported that Caputo also apologized to other HHS staffers, though a source told the network he "portrayed himself as a victim in his apology."

In Caputo's original video, posted on Facebook Live and obtained by Yahoo! News, he amplified a number of conspiratorial claims already made by President Donald Trump. He also warned of an armed revolt against the government and encouraged people to buy ammunition.

"There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president,” Caputo said, invoking a conspiracy of "deep state" actors within the government.

The New York Times reported that, elsewhere in the video, Caputo said his physical health was waning and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he reportedly said, before talking about “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”

Caputo, a longtime ally of the president, was named to his position in mid-April.

Politico reported earlier this month that he had tried throughout the summer to bend critical public messages sent out by health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to back claims made by the president.

The outlet also reported that an aide to Caputo, Paul Alexander, had complained in one email that medical officials at the CDC were attempting to "hurt the President" when the health officials' statements aligned with science rather than Trump's messaging.

The HHS said in a statement this week that Alexander was leaving the department, while former Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Ryan Murphy will be taking over day-to-day operations of the office.

Michael Caputo
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Caputo previously worked on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and was hired by the president at HHS earlier this year despite having no background in healthcare or medicine.

Audio from journalist Bob Woodward's interviews with Trump earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic shows the president saying: "I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has killed at least 196,680 people in the U.S., according to a Times tracker, and it has infected more than 6.6 million across the country.

CDC Director Robert Redfield told Congress on Wednesday that a vaccine would likely be available for widespread distribution to the public by late 2021.

Trump, who has repeatedly differed from his own health experts, claimed Redfield "misunderstood the question, probably" and insisted that a vaccine would be ready sooner.