Who is Michael Caputo? How he and other Trump appointees interfered with CDC's weekly reports on Covid-19

Caputo was slammed for meddling with CDC reports to align with Trump's statements about Covid-19 as they 'hurt the president'

                            Who is Michael Caputo? How he and other Trump appointees interfered with CDC's weekly reports on Covid-19
Michael Caputo and Donald Trump (Getty Images)

For the longest time, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) weekly scientific reports provided public health officials, policymakers and the general public information about the progression of the coronavirus pandemic through its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). These reports have regularly been published by CDC without any political interference and have been a cornerstone based on which the CDC advised doctors and the public about Covid-19 and the precautions to be taken during the pandemic. 

However, ever since Michael Caputo, Trump's former campaign official, was installed as the health department's assistant secretary in April, things have changed significantly. Caputo and his team have accused CDC's reports of trying to "hurt the president" with their findings. There have been active efforts from Caputo's end to tweak the reports in such a way that they align with Trump's statements. Caputo and his team have reportedly attempted to add caveats to the CDC's findings. According to Politico, the team's efforts included "to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior," according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by Politico.

Politico also revealed an email from August 8, in which a person from Caputo's team called out CDC Director Robert Redfield and his scientists for using the MMWR reports to "hurt the president". Paul Alexander, an assistant professor of health research at Toronto's McMaster University, was recruited by Caputo as his scientific adviser. Alexander reportedly demanded Redfield to re-edit two published reports which he felt overstated the risks of Covid-19 to children. He felt that CDC was undermining the president's efforts to get schools reopened.

Alexander wrote, "CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school re-opening... Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear." He also demanded Redfield to stop publication of all future MMWR reports until they allowed Alexander to personally review the whole report before it was published. "The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous," Alexander told Redfield.

CDC officials have tried pushing back on Caputo's interference in their work, but have recently allowed his team to review the reports before their publication. In a statement to Politico, Caputo defended his team's actions on seeking changes in CDC reports saying that Alexander is an "Oxford-educated epidemiologist" who advises him on the pandemic policy. "Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC," he said.

So who exactly is Michael Caputo? He is a Republican political strategist and media consultant. In April 2020, he was appointed as assistant secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services for public affairs. Caputo worked in the Reagan administration and later went on to become director of media services for the campaign of former president George HW Bush during the 1992 presidential elections. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Caputo moved to Russia in 1994. He served as an adviser to Boris Yeltsin. In 2000, he worked for Gazprom Media and was responsible for improving the image of Vladimir Putin in the US. Caputo also worked on Trump's campaign. 

Internet users have slammed Caputo for his interference with CDC reports. A user tweeted, "Caputo lackey Paul Alexander called on Redfield to modify 2 already published reports that Alexander claimed 'wrongly inflate the risks of #coronavirus to kids & undermined Trump's push to reopen schools. THEY TRIED TO HIDE EVIDENCE OF OUR KIDS BEING AT-RISK." Another said, "Surprise. Since Trump campaign hack Michael Caputo — with no medical or scientific background — was installed as HHS spokesperson, he has put constant pressure on CDC to alter Covid-19 facts and conclusions to match Trump's optimistic spin." Another user expressed, "Hey, Michael Caputo: The CDC does not work for Trump. They work for us. He works for us. You work for us. And when you no longer work for us, you’re going to be held liable for the deaths you caused."




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