Michael Caputo came to the Trump administration with a background as a political operative. So when he was dispatched to head "communications" at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suspicion arose that forthright public-service messaging might not be his true mission amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon it became apparent that he went to the HHS to better align public statements of disease experts' scientific analysis with President Donald Trump's nonscientific wishes. Long-standing methods of official reporting on the virus were targeted for sudden change.
Unfortunately, Caputo's rant on Facebook — evoking left-wing plots, his own mental health, "shadows on the ceiling," fear for his safety and a need to stock up on ammunition — has sent him to a leave of absence and led to an associate's departure.
It would be cruel and wrong to scapegoat Caputo. The very point of his mission seems to have been propagating alternative realities that could best serve his boss. Caputo seemed to be the right man for this nongovernmental task. It is reasonable to wonder how many other Trump loyalists believe in the crackpot claim that scientists are engaged in deep-state "sedition," a "theory" for which Caputo has apologized to staffers for voicing.
Was this episode any loopier than convicted liar and onetime Caputo mentor Roger Stone — whose sentence Trump commuted — urging his presidential ally to declare martial law after the election? Or the president himself speaking in dark conspiratorial terms about the election?
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, also seems to play an accommodating role. In a telling twist, a Maryland judge ruled this week that Wolf's presence in the post appears to be invalid under the agency’s applicable order of succession.
According to one sworn complaint from a whistleblower, Wolf said U.S. intelligence about Russian cybermeddling in the election should be "held" because it "made the President look bad." Wolf also allegedly moved to lowball threats posed by white supremacy while emphasizing left-wing activity and alarms about China and Iran.
Wolf's credentials, like Caputo's, might fit the extracurricular mission for which he was chosen. From 2002 to 2005, he worked in the Transportation Security Administration. From 2005 to 2016, Wolf was a lobbyist who helped clients obtain contracts from the TSA. Earlier, he worked as a staffer for three Republican U.S. senators.
Is there someone better than Wolf to bring official intelligence reports into line with his current client's whims?
As White House spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany parrots Trump’s dodges, deflections and outright lies without offering much in the way of explanation. She comes from an elite pool — Georgetown University, Harvard University and Fox News. Though paid by the government, she seems to play a campaign role as well, including mocking challenger Joe Biden from the White House briefing room.
Not that appointees' backgrounds always match White House messaging. Denying multiple reports from multiple sources that he called deceased U.S. troops "losers" and "suckers," Trump last week suddenly broke leftward, accusing his military leadership of pushing for war "so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy."
That seems to clash with Trump's selection last year as secretary of defense of Mark Esper, a former Army officer and lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon. Trump does, however, boast about having ballooned the military budget, a huge and often uninspected area of federal expenditure.
For all of Trump's politicizing of sensitive military, health and diplomatic positions, professionals who buck him and earn his abuse seem to emerge from the administration with their professional credentials intact.
These include Alexander Vindman, former director of European affairs in the National Security Council, and Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, who both testified in Trump's impeachment. Both are gone from the Trump administration. Both are pulling for Biden to oust Trump, the president who says he only hires "the best people."