Trump administration diverted $300 million in CDC funds to make advertisements on how to 'defeat despair' about the COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 01: Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.Mark Wilson/Getty Image
  • The Trump administration diverted over $300 million in funding for the CDC to a COVID-19 ad campaign devised by a political appointee.
  • The campaign "is expected to lean heavily on video interviews between administration officials and celebrities," Politico reported.
  • Michael Caputo, the Trump appointee who came up with the campaign, said on Facebook that it had been "demanded of me by the president of the United States. Personally."
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The Trump administration is using over $300 million in funding diverted from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make advertisements to "defeat despair" over COVID-19, Politico revealed Friday.

The ad campaign, reportedly the brainchild of a political appointee and health department spokesperson Michael Caputo, "is expected to lean heavily on video interviews between administration officials and celebrities," including actor Dennis Quaid, the outlet reported. It is being investigated by Democrats, who see it as taxpayer-funded political ads ahead of an election.

In a video posted on Facebook, Caputo, who worked on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, said the ad blitz was "demanded of me by the president of the United States. Personally." Caputo, earlier this month took a medical leave, and later said he had been diagnosed with cancer. Mark Weber, described by politico as a "career HHS public affairs official," has taken over the project.
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"They cannot afford for us to have any good news before November because they're already losing," Caputo said of the democrats in his Facebook video.

"They're going to come after me because I'm going to be putting $250 million worth of ads on the air," he added.

In a statement, the department insisted that the campaign would be strictly informative, not partisan, and intended to "help Americans make informed decisions about the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and flu." The White House did not respond to Politico's request for comment.
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Sources told Politico that the campaign was directed and led by Caputo, who has no background in science. "He had a very deliberate vision of what he wanted this to be," one health department official said.

Another source said that the videos commissioned thus far were "like a political campaign with surrogates."

Read the full Politico report here »

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com
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