WASHINGTON – Michael Caputo, the new Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, allegedly deleted xenophobic tweets before starting his new role last week.
Caputo, a Republican political operative who worked on President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, deleted nearly his entire Twitter feed before April 12, according to a report by CNN. He started his new position as assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS on April 15.
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Many of the now-deleted tweets reviewed by CNN included xenophobic comments and were about coronavirus.
"Millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer," he tweeted in March, while also using a vulgar term about eating anteaters. He said the same thing on his podcast a few days later.
The new HHS spokesman also asked another Twitter user: "Don't you have a bat to eat?"
Caputo appears to be referencing the fact gene sequencing analysis suggests the virus originated in bats and was transferred to humans through a yet-unidentified intermediary species. In early February, Chinese researchers published work suggesting the intermediary species may have been the pangolin (also called a scaly anteater), though this work has not undergone a peer-reviewed study.
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Caputo additionally demeaned the severity of the virus numerous times, claiming the fear surrounding it was created by the media and Democrats to discredit Trump politically, and they wanted to inflict hundreds of thousands of Americans to death.
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Caputo tweeted Thursday that he would now be posting from his "official capacity" and told his followers to "enjoy the ride" with a GIF.
Caputo told CNN that he was a “defender of the President” but is “now a servant of the American people and some might be disappointed, but my tweets will be different.”
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Many online called for Caputo's removal following the CNN report.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., tweeted that Caputo must be fired immediately, following the report.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., called for Caputo's departure, saying his "deranged, profane & hate-filled polemics disqualify him for public employment & he should quickly return to the rock he lives under. Asian Americans don’t deserve this appalling insult & neither do the rest of us."
Former Rep. Joe Walsh, who briefly ran against Trump in the GOP primary, tweeted, "Michael Caputo is a corrupt thug. He’s now working for the Trump Administration. He’ll fit in perfectly."
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USA TODAY has reached out to HHS for comment and did not immediately hear back.
The report on Caputo's tweets comes a day after a HHS official helping to develop a coronavirus vaccine said he was removed from his post because he questioned the value of drugs being pushed by Trump.
Rick Bright, who until this week was director of the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said he is speaking out "because to combat this deadly virus, science – not politics or cronyism – has to lead the way."
Contributing: Matthew Brown