HHS said in a statement released early afternoon that Caputo would be on leave for the next 60 days to “focus on his health and the well-being of his family.” That means he will be gone until after the Nov. 3 election.
In a statement, Caputo said he decided to take a temporary medical leave to “pursue necessary screenings for a lymphatic issue discovered last week.” He also said he has been losing weight for months, which he initially attributed to a new exercise and diet regimen before realizing other factors might be contributing.
Caputo also said violent threats against his family were contributing to his stress level. He expressed thanks to Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, for conferring with his personal physician. (Fauci is among the scientists that Alexander had sought to instruct on what he could say.)
“My experience mirrors that of many Americans,” Caputo said in his statement. “Every American battling COVID — in every city in every state across the nation — has been under enormous pressure. I am just one of them.”
White House aides began discussing a leave for Caputo Monday afternoon but he was initially resistant, said White House officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Caputo’s comments on Facebook Live had stunned many inside the administration, who said he had done the event without approval, and aides struggled to find a video of it. “The great irony is he wanted to control everyone else’s appearances,” one senior administration official said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to comment on Caputo at a briefing Wednesday.
Caputo in recent days has accused White House staffers of running a vendetta against him.
Caputo had been set to oversee a critical public relations campaign to help build public trust in a coronavirus vaccine. Recent polls show a significant number of Americans are unlikely to take a vaccine as soon as it is available over fears that safety has been compromised for speed.
Several current and former officials said the recent controversies engulfing him threatened the campaign of a vaccine that has already been highly politicized. The White House officials said Caputo’s exit will improve the communications strategy.
Speaking at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had been “deeply saddened” by Caputo’s accusations that his agency contained a “resistance unit” trying to undermine the president.
“It not true,” Redfield said, saying the CDC is “made up of thousands of men and women, highly competent. It is the premier public health agency in the world.”
Redfield also denied that Caputo or Alexander had undermined the agency’s weekly science missives, known as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. “The scientific integrity of the MMWR has not been compromised, and will not be compromised on my watch,” he said.
Trump installed Caputo at HHS in April after damaging stories about Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to three current and former senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe behind-the-scenes discussions.
Caputo was an unusual choice for the top health communications job because he has no background in health or science. The longtime political consultant began working with Trump in 2014, first to assist Trump’s unsuccessful bid to buy the Buffalo Bills that year, and then, in 2016, to assist Trump’s efforts in the Republican primary for president in New York.
Democrats had called for Caputo’s resignation on Monday — and on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also called on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to step down after media reports detailing how Caputo and Alexander had attempted to interfere with scientists.
McMaster University in Canada, where Alexander is listed as a part-time assistant professor, also sought to distance itself from him as well.
“While Paul Alexander graduated with a PhD in health research methodologies from McMaster in 2015, he is not currently teaching and he is not paid by the university for his contract role as a part-time assistant professor,” Susan Emigh, a spokeswoman at McMaster University, said Monday. “As a consultant, he is not speaking on behalf of McMaster University or the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact.”
Amy Goldstein contributed to this story.