WASHINGTON -- A Trump health appointee who is accused of trying to muzzle an important scientific publication in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic apologized Tuesday for a separate video in which he reportedly says scientists battling the virus are conspiring against President Donald Trump and warns of shooting in America if Trump loses the election.
Michael Caputo, the top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, apologized to his staff for the Facebook video, said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The department is standing by Caputo so far in the face of calls by congressional Democrats for his dismissal -- and for the resignation of his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
He can be heard on a Health and Human Services podcast asserting that Democrats don't want a coronavirus vaccine before the election in order to punish Trump.
News reports alleged last week that Caputo's office tried to take over and muzzle a scientific weekly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that publishes what is supposed to be authoritative, unvarnished information about disease-fighting efforts, including, most importantly at present, covid-19.
Then on Monday came an account of the video on Caputo's personal Facebook page in which he accused government scientists of conspiring against Trump and suggested violence could break out after the election.
Caputo was named the top Health and Human Services spokesman in April, during a tense period in relations between the White House and Azar.
On a taxpayer-funded podcast earlier this summer he accused Democrats and the media of not wanting a coronavirus vaccine until after the elections in order to defeat Trump.
"There are people in the United States government on the Democrats' side ... [who] do not want a vaccine," he said.
"They don't want a vaccine until November 4th," he added, citing the day after the presidential election. It's highly unusual to use an agency communications platform for such a blatantly political message.
Over the weekend, Caputo made headlines when Politico and The New York Times reported that his office had tried to gain control over a CDC publication known as the MMWR, or Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In previous administrations, political appointees in the Health and Human Services secretary's office maintained a hands-off policy.
The story took a turn Monday, after the Times reported about a live video hosted by Caputo on his personal Facebook page. In it, Caputo reportedly accused government scientists of conspiring against Trump as part of a "resistance."
Caputo reportedly predicted that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would refuse to concede defeat to Trump in the election, and violence would break out. The Associated Press was unable to independently view the video.
Health and Human Services supported Caputo, with a statement calling him a "critical, integral part of the president's coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the covid-19 pandemic."
Attempts to interview Caputo were unsuccessful.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports.
Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at Health and Human Services to try to edit or press for changes in the agency's weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.
Caputo's recent book, "The Ukraine Hoax," claims the president's "phony" impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.
At Health and Human Services, he's been closely affiliated with Operation Warp Speed, the government's effort to have millions of doses of a covid-19 vaccine ready for distribution as soon as one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Caputo interviewed Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a top outside adviser to the vaccine effort, on a Health and Human Services podcast July 31. Commiserating with Slaoui over Democrats and news articles that were critical of the doctor, Caputo said:
"I know that's hard to believe, but the people who are abusing you, and who are beating down Operation Warp Speed, and the incredible historic work that's going on, they don't want a vaccine until November 4th. I don't want to talk about politics here, but November 3rd is an important day. They don't want a vaccine now because of politics, sir."
Information for this article was contributed by Jennifer Farrar of The Associated Press.