Fauci to a meddling HHS official: ‘Take a hike’
These were not his only posts. “Streiff”—whose work, as of this writing, is still available on Redstate.com—also had views on the riots in Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin; on Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore; on Attorney General Bill Barr (favorable) and former National Security Council staffer Alexander Vindman (unfavorable); on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson (favorable) and CNN’s Jake Tapper (unfavorable). Nothing that he wrote was clever or surprising. Day after day he produced boringly predictable pablum, the sort of average-vile stuff pumped out on Fox or Breitbart News all the time. The only thing remarkable about this writing is that Crews was doing it while simultaneously being employed by a government body whose most important task is to fight exactly the kinds of conspiracy theories he was producing. He may even have been doing both at the same time. Markay could not determine whether Crews actually filed any of his posts from his office computer, but many of them first appeared during weekday working hours.
In the everyday world, this kind of behavior would be considered bizarre: What type of person betrays his co-workers this way? But in the Trump administration, it is not unusual, especially among people who work at health agencies. Recently, Michael Caputo, the Trump-appointed head spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, was caught meddling with scientific reports on the pandemic put out by the CDC, which, like Fauci’s agency, is part of HHS; he then posted a Facebook video claiming that scientists at the CDC were plotting “sedition” and worse. “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said. “There are hit squads being trained all over this country,” he continued: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
Caputo, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has now gone on leave. But he was not the only one in his office who made wild statements expressing radical views. Yet another HHS political appointee, Paul Alexander, regularly sent emails harassing employees of the CDC. He described its deputy director, the physician Anne Schuchat, as “duplicitous” for saying she hoped the country could “take [the pandemic] seriously and slow the transmission … we have way too much virus across the country.” Alexander also regularly sought to censor weekly scientific and statistical reports—the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” to be precise—written by the nation’s most important public-health institution, describing them as “hit pieces” targeting the Trump administration.
My Atlantic colleague David A. Graham recently noted that Caputo may well represent the face of a second-term Trump administration. Instead of people with expertise and competence, the White House and Cabinet agencies will contain ideologues with no experience—or, worse, ideologues with a long record of bad judgment and terrible errors. But the cases of Crews, Caputo, and Paul Alexander suggest an additional conclusion: that people whose jobs require them to provide “alternative facts” on a regular basis might eventually break under the strain. Maybe there is a price to be paid, in loss of mental clarity, for supporting the fantasy world needed to sustain this president.