Following unhinged tirade, Trump appointee takes 'leave of absence'

After accusing government scientists of "sedition," HHS's Michael Caputo is stepping aside - but only temporarily.
Former Trump Campaign Official Michael Caputo To Be Interviewed By Senate Intelligence Committee Staffers
Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building on May 1, 2018.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

It was strange enough when the White House tapped Michael Caputo, a notorious Republican political operative and a Roger Stone protégé, to serve in a leadership role at the Department of Health and Human Services. The fact that Caputo had no meaningful background in health care or science apparently didn't matter.

But his role took on an even more bizarre turn this week after he peddled some truly unhinged conspiracy theories, prompting questions about whether he'd have to quit. Evidently, Caputo is stepping aside -- but only temporarily.

The top spokesman for the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is taking a leave of absence, the agency announced Wednesday, days after he promoted dangerous conspiracy theories during a Facebook Live video.... In the announcement, HHS said 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."

In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP operative serving as the assistant secretary of public affairs accused career government scientists of "sedition"; he suggested unnamed opponents may be preparing to kill him; and he described "shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long."

Caputo went on to encourage people to "buy ammunition," because he believes "the shooting will begin" at Donald Trump's second inaugural, thanks in part to the "squads being trained all over this country."

The HHS official also declared in his Facebook video that his "mental health has definitely failed."

Just as notably, Caputo has reportedly tried to interfere with CDC reports, pushing them to be altered for political reasons, and turning CDC research over to a Canadian political ally with a scientific background, Dr. Paul Alexander, who's accused of helping apply ideological pressure on government scientists.

As of today, Caputo is taking a couple of months off, and Alexander, according to an HHS press release, "will be leaving the department."

What happens after Caputo's 60-day absence? It's not altogether clear, though he'll presumably resume his duties at the cabinet agency. If Trump wins a second term, he may very well stick around for quite a while longer.