Emails show top HHS official and Trump ally intimidating CDC official
Posted September 18, 2020 5:17 p.m. EDT
CNN — A close ally of President Donald Trump who was serving as a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly sent complaints about how the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was handling a media request to the agency's director in an apparent attempt to intimidate an agency communications official, according to emails shared with CNN.
The emails show Michael Caputo, who served as the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS until taking a leave of absence earlier this week, confronting a CDC spokesperson for responding to a question from CNN about a vaccine education campaign.
"In what world did you think it was your job to announce an Administration public service announcement campaign to CNN?" Caputo said to the spokesperson on June 27, copying top agency officials on the email -- including Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency's director, who is tasked with leading the nation's health protection agency during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
The emails are a part of a pattern showing Caputo's hostile attitude toward CDC officials. Earlier this week, Caputo announced he will take a two-month leave of absence from his post after apologizing for a conspiracy theory-laden rant he made against CDC scientists, alleging a "resistance unit" within the department and accusing CDC officials of "sedition." He has been accused by critics of politicizing the CDC and the HHS response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York Times was first to report on the email from Caputo to the CDC spokesperson.
The emails show a CNN reporter had reached out to the CDC spokesperson with a question about a vaccine education program that Dr. Anthony Fauci hinted at in a late June CNN interview. The spokesperson referred the reporter to Caputo, who then decided to escalate the issue.
When the CDC spokesperson apologized to Caputo and stated that they merely referred CNN to him and did not confirm the campaign, Caputo snapped back with another terse message.
"We will discuss this on a teleconference tomorrow. I want your HR representative in attendance," Caputo said.
In a subsequent message he added, "I'm adding Dr Redfield back in this email exchange. Do not remove him again."
This is a breaking story and will be updated.