The Health and Human Services official who has been pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change COVID-19 reports to reflect well on President Donald Trump has troubling Kremlin ties stretching for years.
Politico was the first to report last week that HHS Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo has been orchestrating a pressure campaign on the CDC to alter agency reports — and even stop them — to fit Trump’s far more optimistic view of COVID-19. The president himself admitted that he lied when he presented a sunnier view of the pandemic.
Caputo, a former top official of the Trump campaign who has no medical or scientific background, has claimed his actions are a defense against the imagined “deep state” out to get Trump. But reports of his CDC scheme have renewed fears about his history with Russia, which interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.
Caputo, who lived in Russia for six years, was an adviser to Boris Yeltsin from 1995 to 1999 and helped him get elected as president. He also served as an adviser to a subsidiary of the state-owned energy company Gazprom, and reportedly helped shore up Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation.
Caputo’s Kremlin ties were so concerning that he became a target of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was questioned but was not charged with any offenses. He also testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contact with Russians while serving on the Trump campaign.
Caputo has attempted to scrub his links to Russia in his Wikipedia bio — and insisted in an interview that his work doesn’t make him a “Putin stooge.” He told his hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News, that “at the time, Putin wasn’t such a bad guy.”
Before he was appointed to his current role, Caputo also scrubbed nearly his entire Twitter history, which was riddled with graphic, offensive attacks, outlandish conspiracy theories, and racist comments about the Chinese.
Caputo has slammed what he calls Trump’s “phony” impeachment and has spread baseless accusations concerning activities in Ukraine by Joe and Hunter Biden. A key source of that Ukrainian smear, Andrii Derkach, turned out to be a Russian spy attempting to interfere in the current U.S. election, the Treasury Department revealed last week. Caputo has claimed it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
Caputo is also a long-time associate of political strategist Roger Stone, who was found guilty of seven felonies last year, including lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses in the investigation into Russian election interference. He was an aide to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is also a convicted felon.
Caputo admitted to Politico he has attempted to change CDC reports.
He told the Buffalo News that amid the “good” work the CDC does are “sometimes stories which seem to purposefully mislead and undermine the president’s COVID response with what [other] scientists label as poor scholarship.”
But Caputo’s efforts to manipulate scientific information have been roundly slammed.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, called it a “new low for science in the U.S.”
Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale University Medical School, characterized it as “thuggery, suitable for some tinpot dictatorship.”
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