Health and Human Servies official Michael Caputo, who has been accused of trying to manipulate COVID-19 data for political purposes, espoused conspiracy theories and warned of post-election insurrection from left-wing hit squads in a live video Sunday, according to multiple media reports.
Without offering evidence, Caputo, assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS, accused scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of "sedition" and falsely claimed they had formed a "resistance unit" against President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times. The Times first reported the contents of the video stream on Caputo's Facebook page, which has since been made private. Caputo later related what he said in the video to The Washington Post and CNN.
Caputo predicted Trump will win reelection but claimed his Democratic challenger Joe Biden would refuse to concede and warned his Facebook followers to prepare for violence.
"And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin," he said, according to the Times. "If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to be hard to get."
Trump appointed Caputo - a longtime friend and Republican political operative, with no health care experience, who worked on his 2016 campaign - to HHS in April as daily deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus peaked.
'Outright egregious': Scientists outraged by White House appointees' meddling with coronavirus information
On Friday, Politico first reported Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured CDC officials to alter the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, which features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred, non-political government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks.
Current and former CDC officials confirmed Politico's reporting to the Times. The outlets said Caputo and Alexander pressured the CDC to change the weekly reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump's public statements about the coronavirus, which repeatedly sought to downplay the severity of the outbreak.
Caputo's comments in the Facebook video came amid backlash over the reports but he vowed to persist in the face of the criticism.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, according to the Times. "I swear to God, as God is my witness, I am not stopping."
"You understand that they're going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that's where this is going," he reportedly said.
On Monday, the Democratic-led House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation into Caputo's alleged interference at the CDC.
"With nearly 200,000 Americans killed and hundreds more dying each day from the
coronavirus pandemic, the public needs and deserves truthful scientific information so they can keep themselves and their families healthy," the Democratic subcommittee members wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield. "We are gravely concerned by reports showing that the President's political appointees at HHS have sought to help him downplay the risks of the coronavirus crisis by attempting to alter, delay, and block critical scientific reports from CDC."
In a statement on Monday, HHS said, "Mr. Caputo is 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."
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Caputo tells Trump supporters 'buy ammunition' before election