The health department’s top communications official is taking a medical leave, three days after urging President Trump’s supporters to prepare for an armed insurrection and accusing government scientists of “sedition,” the agency announced Wednesday.
Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, leveled the accusations and promoted other conspiracy theories in a Facebook Live event on Sunday.HHS said in a statement released early afternoon that Caputo would be on leave for the next 60 days to “focus on his health and the well-being of his family.” That means he will be gone until after the Nov. 3 election.
The agency also said that Paul Alexander, a top aide to Caputo, would be leaving the agency permanently. Alexander came under scrutiny in recent weeks for his efforts to exert control over the messages coming from scientists and top health officials, including the content of weekly science reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to make them conform to the president’s assertions that the virus is under control.
A Facebook comment argued that mail-in ballots “will lead to fraud for this election,” while an Instagram comment amplified the erroneous claim that 28 million ballots went missing in the past four elections.
The messages have been emanating in recent months from the accounts of young people in Arizona seemingly expressing their own views — standing up for President Trump in a battleground state and echoing talking points from his reelection campaign.
Far from representing a genuine social media groundswell, however, the posts are the product of a sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia during the 2016 campaign.
The health department’s top spokesperson Michael Caputo called an emergency staff meeting on Tuesday to apologize for drawing negative attention to the Trump administration’s health care strategy and signaled that he might be soon departing his role, according to five people with knowledge of the meeting.
The departure of Caputo, who has closely controlled the health agencies’ dissemination of information about coronavirus, would be a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to promote a possible vaccine, if one is approved in the fall.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, confirmed that the planes are Russian MiG-29s, and also said the soldier on the far right in the ad carries an AK-74 assault rifle.
The Trump Make America Great Again Committee is run by both the Republican National Committee and the campaign. Most of the low-dollar and digital donations raised by the committee goes to the campaign.
The image in the ad is a stock photo available on Shutterstock.com with the title “Military silhouettes of soldiers and airforce against the backdrop of sunset sky.” The creator of the image, named “BPTU,” says they are based in Andorra, but did not respond to a Facebook message.