The tumultuous saga of spokesperson Michael Caputo at the Department of Health and Human Services reached an abrupt coda this week as he took a 60-day leave of absence following a bizarre mental breakdown in which he warned of violent insurrection should President Donald Trump fail to win re-election. But Caputo’s conduct at the department and subsequent meltdown are just part of a disturbing pattern by Trump appointees recently to keep the truth concealed from the public.
Caputo, a longtime Republican operative who has no medical background, accused government researchers of “sedition” for producing data that didn’t reflect well on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to reporting first broken by Politico, Caputo demanded the right to edit the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, provoking backlash from career scientists wary of Caputo’s heavy-handed political interference. He also attempted to block politically inconvenient CDC reports, such as one that cast doubt on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a sort of 21st century snake oil that Trump has touted as a miracle cure for COVID-19.
Caputo finally snapped on Monday in a Facebook Live rant, warning that “there are hit squads being trained all over this country” and that civil war will soon commence.
“And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” Caputo said. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.” He added that his “mental health has failed,” and that “I don’t like being alone in Washington,” telling of “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”
Putting Caputo on medical leave before he had the chance to hurt himself or others was a good move, and should serve as a cautionary tale for those who would follow Trump’s deranged conspiracy theories to their logical endpoint. But one has to question why Caputo was given the job in the first place. At a time when the U.S. is struggling to contain a deadly pandemic, Trump consciously decided that the American public couldn’t handle the truth.
On Feb. 7, Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that the new coronavirus was “deadly stuff,” much deadlier than the common flu. But at a rally in South Carolina on Feb. 28, Trump dismissed the virus as “their new hoax.” But as the pandemic spiraled out of control and Trump’s re-election chances crumbled on account of his own negligence, Trump was at a crossroads: he could tell the public the truth it needed to hear, or he could try to spin his way out. Enter Caputo, whose resume includes work for such noted creeps as Roger Stone, Carl Paladino and Vladimir Putin, the latter of whom hired Caputo to work for Russian media giant Gazprom Media in an effort to burnish Putin’s image abroad during the early 2000s. More recently, Caputo was the author of “The Ukraine Hoax,” which argues that Trump’s impeachment for attempting to extort Ukraine’s president into a phony investigation to tarnish political rival Joe Biden was actually a vast Democratic conspiracy.
But Caputo’s dishonesty is part of a pattern in Trump’s administration. Brian Murphy, a Marine Corps veteran and Department of Homeland Security official, filed a complaint last week claiming that Trump appointees Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli pressured him to revise intelligence reports that reflected poorly on Trump. Murphy says he was demoted after resisting efforts to downplay the threat posed by violent white supremacist groups by instead focusing on left-wing groups, and the threat of Russian interference in U.S. elections, which Wolf said “made the president look bad,” according to the complaint. Earlier this summer, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced that Congress would no longer receive in-person briefings on election security. Ratcliffe was appointed by Trump earlier this year, in part because of his insistence that Russia’s 2016 election interference wasn’t intended to help Trump’s campaign.
Trump ran for president on a platform that claimed, among other things, that Washington politicians had been lying to the public and that Trump would tell the blunt truth. As he runs for re-election, it’s now obvious that this doesn’t count when that truth is politically inconvenient for him.