If Michael Caputo, a top official at Health and Human Services, hadn’t melted down and spewed out on Facebook Live that his job description included suppressing “rotten scientists” in a “resistance unit” at the CDC, he would still be twisting the apolitical data coming out of the single most important source of health information in the country. Caputo also warned that Democrats were getting out of their sweatpants only long enough to plot an armed insurrection to defeat Trump by publicizing a running tab on death and destruction from COVID-19. At night, Caputo saw shadows on the wall. In short, he was a mess.
But as a protégé of Roger Stone, that made him the perfect person to do as Trump wished, but not competent or composed enough to carry it out—for which we should be grateful. By Wednesday he was gone, deleting his accounts and taking a medical leave, at taxpayer expense, for 60 days, meaning post-election he could be back on the front lines, either to serve in a second term or man the barricades against those Biden forces.
But while he’s sidelined, the campaign within the campaign to present Trump as doing a great job fighting the pandemic, goes on ever more desperately. There was the man himself Wednesday evening, boasting about the lives he’d supposedly somehow saved, as the death count closes in on 200,000, and blaming those deaths on those darn blue states. To push that reality-defying message, Trump has tried to put the knee of a political appointee like Caputo on the neck of every health expert. Too bad for us, they won’t all sideline themselves by broadcasting their paranoid ravings.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar—whom Caputo was supposed to be controlling but who was already doing Trump’s bidding—was himself exposed this week for pressing Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA head, to loosen coronavirus testing standards, already as loose as a goose. The persuadable Hahn also overruled regulators to get convalescent plasma approved, a treatment Trump likes almost as much as hydroxychloroquine and bleach. Hahn had the good grace to be embarrassed and issued a statement vowing that he wouldn’t be overruling his regulators again.
Thanks for that, but the question arises: Who isn’t on the take? Relieved that Caputo had gone home to spend more time with his family, the top rotten scientist at the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, said in Senate testimony that wearing a mask may provide more protection than a vaccine and that a vaccine wasn’t three to four weeks away, as Trump asserted the day before, but wouldn’t be broadly available next summer.
If this were Russia and Trump were Putin (and wouldn’t he love that?) Redfield would want to hire a food taster. Contradicting Trump is a high crime, and an hour later, Trump accused him of being mistaken, that a vaccine was imminent. Not to choose sides, but when Redfield gave his timetable he was under oath.
Hey, doc, welcome back. I thought we'd lost you when you “rewrote” CDC’s guidelines for schools to reopen. Still I'm not holding my breath that anyone’s manning the barricades as I steel myself to take one of those nose swab tests that is now unreliable courtesy of your sister agency, the FDA.
Expertise has to watch its step around Trump if it doesn’t hedge its bets. If you have a job in the Trump administration, you either work for Trump or you are banished and if you can't be banished—superhero Dr. Anthony Fauci comes to mind—you are silenced.
In fact, the primary task of Caputo’s deputy at HHS, who left with Caputo, was to keep Fauci quiet and off TV. He was only partly successful given that cameras follow the country’s leading epidemiologist wherever he goes. Fauci had guided six presidents through countless crises successfully before working for this seventh one who wants the doctor to do what’s best for him, not what’s best for the country.
Fauci spoke up last week but there’s only so much even a Medal of Freedom winner can do in the face of lawlessness more brazen than ever, leaving no place for public servants like him, the cashiered Col. Alexander Vindman, the reassigned head of vaccines, or a half dozen inspectors general. Trump with his absolute power has pushed out or fired those who aren't politically correct as he defines it. Look, but you won’t find anyone left to question Trump’s assertion that sweeping the forest floor will stop wildfires or that the planet is actually cooling. With the hiring of Attorney General William Barr and a bunch of strategic firings, Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Justice Department. It’s now representing him against a woman he defamed after she charged him with sexual assault and running a side operation to dig up dirt on Joe Biden before the election. Not a peep from Barr when Trump illegally held the Republican convention on the South Lawn and the AG is all-in on declaring beforehand that an election Trump loses will be fraudulent because of mail-in ballots. As for state laws, Trump is back to holding mostly maskless rallies that exceed state rules by about 5,000 people. Still they come, supporters dying to see him.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, another thousand people will die and—with one eye on the stock market, the other on his re-election, and aided by an army of Caputos to run herd over the doctors and scientists—Trump will do nothing about it.