CNN | 10/30/2020 | Listen

Michael Caputo fits very well in the Trump administration

Updated 8:59 PM ET, Tue September 15, 2020

Editor's Note: Michael D'Antonio is the author of the book "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success" and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the upcoming book "High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) - The current craziest thing from Trumpworld involves Michael Caputo, who was installed in a key government job as the top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, where a federal health official said Caputo is pressuring scientists to change their reports on the coronavirus pandemic.

As if the allegation isn't bad enough, Caputo, in a video on Sunday, spewed conspiracy theories and warned of looming armed conflict if Joe Biden doesn't concede to Donald Trump, saying, "And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin."

In a statement to CNN, Caputo said that he made the comments in the video while dealing with pressures stemming from he and his family being harassed recently. On Tuesday, Caputo apologized to his HHS staffers.

Still, the whole thing suggests, to me, that he's doing just what the boss wants.

As Trump drives for reelection, he will find new ways to continue shocking us with his deviance. Look at his recent comments on the killing of an Antifa activist by police who were attempting to arrest him. Trump seemed to suggest it was "retribution" because the activist was suspected of killing a right-wing protester in Portland, Oregon.

The President has also mused about an unconstitutional third term in office, and he has defied public health warnings to hold an indoor rally amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the rally, he said that he can be really "vicious."

Before Trump, no one would have imagined a US president saying or doing such things.

In both business and politics, Trump has long sought to grab attention with extreme behavior and comments ranging from using a fake persona to spread flattering lies about himself to his racist "birtherism" campaign, which involved specious claims that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.

As president, he has all but ignored his obligation to lead with seriousness and tell the truth, opting instead for lies and distortions numbering, according to the Washington Post, in the tens of thousands. What is new now, as Trump revs up his campaign, is that he is aided by a team that shares his disdain for the truth and public service.

Gone are the Dudley Do-Right types like former defense secretary James Mattis and former chief of staff John Kelly, who fought against the President's worst impulses. In their place is a team of enablers who, much like members of a gangster's crew, share Trump's instincts and happily join in the mayhem under the big boss' protection.

As CNN has reported, a whistleblower alleges that acting Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf urged officials to tailor intelligence to fit the President's political agenda by downplaying the threat of Russian interference and instead focus more on gathering information on China and Iran.

The White House and DHS denied the allegations.

Over at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr is not ruling out a preelection release of the results of a probe into the investigation of Russian election interference efforts in 2016. Barr's move is seemingly designed to support the President on the matter of Russia aiding him in the 2016 election. (A preelection release would violate department norms related to influencing elections.)

The push to release the findings is allegedly why Nora Dannehy, one member of the investigating team, recently resigned. According to her colleagues, she was motivated in part by her concern that Justice Department higher ups were pressuring the team for political reasons.

Meanwhile, at the Department of Health and Human Services, Caputo is doing his part to politically benefit the President. In its report on pressure from the HHS, Politico, citing a widely circulated internal email it obtained, quoted Paul Alexander complaining that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a nonpartisan agency, "appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration."

Alexander, Caputo's senior adviser, wanted the CDC to change papers it had published on school children and Covid-19 to align them with Trump's political position favoring school reopening. Alexander also tried to dictate statements made by Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

Caputo praised Alexander in a statement to CNN.

Although he may now be trying to blame his bizarre conspiracy comments on recent pressures, Caputo is no stranger to Trump-style antics.

For example, shortly after Caputo was appointed as the new HHS spokesman in April, CNN reported that he had deleted inflammatory posts from his Twitter account, including one on March 8 that suggested the pandemic was a hoax.

"Coronavirus is the Democrats' new Russia, their new Ukraine," he wrote. "And nobody will believe them except their zombies. But know this: The Dems' strategy to defeat @realDonaldTrump requires 100s of thousands of American deaths. Will one of their nutjobs make it happen, a la Hodgkinson?" (Hodgkinson was in reference to a man who wounded five people in a gunfire attack on a Republican baseball team practice.)

Around the time Caputo was appointed in April, the US had about 30,000 deaths. Caputo's coronavirus comment seems especially ill conceived and would, with another president, have made him ineligible for a post at HHS, but it marks him as a person perfectly suited for the Trump administration.

Others in the administration show a similar flair for chaos, ignoring their norms of their offices in order to serve a President who acts in the way of a criminal ringleader.

As Caputo and the others show their willingness to play the game like Trump, they bring to mind Trump's former lawyer and business affairs "fixer," Michael Cohen, who went to prison for lying to federal officials investigating his former boss.

In his new memoir, Cohen writes that he studied law so he could practice it "like a gangster." He writes fondly of the characters in the mafia movie "Goodfellas" and describes feeling thrilled by the rule breaking he witnessed and practiced. He called those who have replaced him, "wannabe fixers, sycophants willing to distort the truth and break the law in the service of the Boss."

The big difference, of course, is that Cohen worked for Trump the businessman and the others work for a President and wield the power of the executive. The damage they are doing affects the world and might not ever be repaired, even by an army of Dudley Do-Rights.


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