Sen. Patty Murray late Monday night demanded the immediate firing of Michael Caputo, the top communications official at the Health and Human Services Department, after the former Trump campaign aide over the weekend launched into an unhinged tirade accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" against the president and urging White House supporters to "buy ammunition" in preparation for a post-election conflict.
During a Facebook live session Sunday that has since been removed from the social media platform along with his entire personal account, Caputo baselessly claimed that "there are hit squads being trained all over this country" to prevent President Donald Trump's reelection. Without a shred of evidence, Caputo also accused the CDC of forming a "resistance unit" to harm the president even at the cost of worsening the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Secretary Azar cannot meet his basic responsibilities while allowing Michael A. Caputo, a yes-man for President Trump with no scientific expertise who publicly attacked CDC scientists and privately interfered with key CDC reports, to continue serving in such an influential role."
—Sen. Patty Murray
CDC scientists "haven't gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops" to decide "how they're going to attack Donald Trump next," Caputo said, according to the New York Times. "There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president."
"When Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin," said Caputo. "The drills that you've seen are nothing."
Following Caputo's rant, Murray—the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—called on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to fire the communications official, who has also reportedly been attempting to alter the CDC's weekly coronavirus reports behind the scenes despite his complete lack of medical experience.
"As the leader of our nation's health department during a pandemic that has claimed more than 190,000 American lives, Secretary Azar has a basic responsibility to ensure our public health experts are able to do their jobs, our Covid-19 response is not undermined by misinformation or conspiracy theories, and the data used to inform our efforts is free of political interference," the Washington Democrat said in a statement late Monday.
"It is clear Secretary Azar cannot meet his basic responsibilities while allowing Michael A. Caputo, a yes-man for President Trump with no scientific expertise who publicly attacked CDC scientists and privately interfered with key CDC reports, to continue serving in such an influential role," Murray continued. "If Secretary Azar believes his responsibility is to the American public and not to President Trump, he should demand Mr. Caputo's resignation today."
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) September 14, 2020
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As Caputo's rant drew national news coverage and condemnation from Democratic lawmakers and other critics, HHS issued a statement to CBS News backing Caputo, calling him "a critical, integral part of the president's coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic."
In a segment Monday evening, MSNBC's Chris Hayes called Caputo "a dangerous crank who is undermining science and raving about delusional conspiracy theories."
"This guy isn't just pushing this nonsense—this disgusting, paranoid, dangerous nonsense—from his government perch," Hayes said. "He is in fact actively working to manipulate what the CDC tells the public about the pandemic in what is arguably the single most important public health publication in the world."
In a joint statement on Monday, more than a dozen progressive advocacy groups demanded that Caputo and his scientific adviser, Paul Alexander, resign over their efforts to "downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and bolster President Donald Trump's image in the midst of this crisis."
"This dangerous skewing of priorities is one of the key reasons President Trump and his administration have failed to contain the virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans," the groups said. "These brazen attempts to mislead the American people are making the situation worse, not better."