Washington — Michael Caputo, the top communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services, will take a medical leave of absence for two months, the department announced on Wednesday, days after Caputo baselessly claimed that government scientists are withholding effective COVID-19 treatments to hurt President Trump’s reelection bid.
“Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is announcing that HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo has decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family. Mr. Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days,” the department said in a statement.
In a statement, Caputo said that he consulted with Mr. Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar before making his decision.
“After consultation with President Trump and Secretary Azar, I have decided to take a temporary medical leave of absence to pursue necessary screenings for a lymphatic issue discovered last week,” Caputo said. “My experience mirrors that of many Americans. When I first noticed I was losing weight, I thought it was because of a new exercise and diet regimen. But over time, I realized there may be other factors causing my weight loss for months.”
“Instead of taking the time to see my doctor, I failed to do so. This was a mistake, and contributed to my stress level, along with the increasing number of violent threats leveled at me and my family back in Buffalo. But every American battling COVID — in every city in every state across the nation — has been under enormous pressure. I am just one of them,” Caputo continued.
Caputo also thanked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, “for conferring with my personal physician as we get the healthcare I long needed, and yet neglected, through the pandemic.”
Caputo, who was an official on the Trump campaign in 2016, told CBS News earlier this week that he had no intention of taking time off.
In a Facebook Live session on Sunday, Caputo claimed that “there are hit squads being trained all over this country” to deny the president a second term. He baselessly claimed that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump next.”
“There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president,” he said on the video, which was first reported by The New York Times.
Caputo told the Facebook audience that dealing with the virus has been difficult for him, and said his “mental health has definitely failed.” But he told CBS News on Monday that “failed” was too strong a word, and “challenged” might have been more accurate. He went on to say that his mental health was “strong.”
House Democrats are investigating allegations that Caputo and his team have tried to retroactively alter CDC reports they claimed incorrectly inflated the risks of the coronavirus, and tried to stop the release of others, including one that discussed how doctors were prescribing hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug touted by President Trump as a treatment for the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration revoked an emergency use authorization for the drug to treat COVID-19 in June.
Weijia Jiang contributed reporting.