Michael Caputo, the head of communications for the US Department of Health, resigns his post for two months after accusing government scientists of being part of a criminal plot to undermine the president.
Mr Caputo will stay away from his post for 60 days, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, days after record facebook video in which he accused public health professionals of forming a seditious “resistance unit” to harm Donald Trump and aid his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The video has been widely criticized by public health officials, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was also symptomatic of wider tensions between Mr. Trump and many independent scientists tasked with formulating his administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Caputo said in the video: “There are scientists working for this government who don’t want America to recover, not until Joe Biden is president.” But he also suggested he had some health issues, saying his “sanity has definitely failed.”
Mr Caputo has reportedly apologized to staff for their comments, which were criticized on Wednesday by Dr Redfield.
Dr Redfield told a Senate committee he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Caputo’s remarks. Hours later, the health department announced Mr. Caputo’s temporary departure, stating, “Michael Caputo has decided to take time off to focus on his health and the well-being of his family.”
Mr. Caputo’s appointment in April was controversial, given his lack of health expertise and his reputation as a pugnacious supporter of Mr. Trump. Before taking up his duties, Mr. Caputo would have been deleted a series of tweets in which he made sexist and racist remarks.
Paul Alexander, the health professor whom Mr. Caputo hired to advise him on medical matters and who has been accused to try to interfere with CDC publications, would also quit his post, the ministry said.
The move highlights recent tensions between Mr. Trump’s allies in the administration and public health officials over how the country should respond to the pandemic.
Mr Trump has traveled the country holding campaign events without wearing a mask in an apparent effort to reinforce his message that the disease is on the decline. He also made fun of Mr Biden for always wearing a face mask in public.
Despite Mr Trump’s comments, Dr Redfield on Wednesday urged Americans to continue wearing masks, suggesting they may be more effective than a vaccine in stopping the spread of the disease.
He told the Senate Health Committee: “We have clear scientific evidence of their effectiveness. I could even go so far as to say that this face mask is safer to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine. “
He added, “If I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine won’t protect me, this mask will.”