Democrats to probe whether Caputo, others meddled with virus data

Sep 15, 2020

 (AP) — A House subcommittee is launching an investigation into whether political appointees -including East Aurora political consultant Michael Caputo-  have meddled with routine government scientific data to better align with President Donald Trump’s public statements about the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Caputo in a 2018 file photo, joined by his attorney Dennis C. Vacco, after being interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staff investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Credit Associated Press file photo

  The move comes , following a report that Caputo-  a longtime local political operative who coordinates public communications for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services-  claimed scientists were trying to undermine Trump.

The Democrat-led subcommittee said Monday that it is requesting transcribed interviews with seven officials from the CDC and HHS, including  Caputo.

Caputo has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” against Trump, according to The New York Times. His page has since been made private.

Meanwhile, The Buffalo News reports that Senate health committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA)  has called upon HHS Secretary Azar to demand Caputo's resignation after the Facebook videos were posted.

  According to a report in Politico, Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured officials to alter the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a long-running weekly journal that features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks.

The officials pressured CDC to change the reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump’s often rosier public statements about the coronavirus, Politico reported.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, the Democratic members of the subcommittee said they are “gravely concerned” about the reports of political meddling in a journal that has long been free of political interference.

“With nearly 200,000 Americans killed and hundreds more dying each day from the coronavirus pandemic, the public needs and deserves truthful scientific information so they can keep themselves and their families healthy,” the Democrats wrote.

The panel is also demanding documents from the department, including communications sent or received by Redfield, Azar, Caputo and Alexander regarding the MMWR and other matters.

Caputo has been active in WNY politics for years, and for several months in 2017 served as the New York State communications director for Donald Trump's initial presidential campaign. He was the campaign manager for Carl Paladino's gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and is an East Aurora resident.

HHS released a statement Monday evening saying, “Mr. Caputo is a critical, integral part of the President’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Politico, Caputo and Alexander complained about a report that explained children can transmit the coronavirus and Alexander asked the CDC to alter it or pull it down, saying the report could impact school reopening and hurt Trump politically.

In the Facebook Live video, reported by The New York Times, Caputo warned that left-wing hit squads would engage in armed insurrection after the election and said officials were engaging in “sedition” as they handled the pandemic. “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said, according to the Times.