Democratic lawmakers have accused the administration of raiding public health funds to launch a “propaganda” campaign weeks out from the presidential election. They say the money would be better served addressing personal protective equipment shortages or helping distribute an eventual coronavirus vaccine. On Thursday, lawmakers broadened their investigation to determine whether contracts are being steered to people with ties to HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, who oversaw the campaign before taking medical leave last month.
Azar also refused to directly answer whether Trump had asked health officials to slow down coronavirus testing, as the president claimed during a campaign rally this summer. White House officials later downplayed Trump’s comments.
“I will not discuss my interactions or conversations with the president,” Azar said.
Azar also dismissed reports that political appointees sought to alter and delay CDC guidance to avoid contradicting Trump’s rosier outlook on the pandemic. When pressed on the issue, Azar said he “did not support” statements from Caputo’s former scientific adviser Paul Alexander declaring that CDC must clear communications through him first.
It looks like Caputo, who is now on medical leave, stood to personally profit off of the commercials:
The video firm recommended by HHS to execute the campaign has struggled to meet deadlines, retain staff and even find the contact information of celebrities to participate in the videos, said three people with knowledge of the operation and documents reviewed by POLITICO.
That firm, DD&T, is led by a filmmaker who had no prior experience making U.S. public health campaigns and is also the business partner of Caputo, the Trump loyalist who served as the health department’s spokesperson before taking leave this month.
“They had no reason being the people working on this campaign,” the person involved in the processadded. “They did not have any connections to filming crews, companies or anything.”
DD&T’s owner, Den Tolmor, did not respond to requests for comment.