Politics/elections

HHS reassigns official who promoted Pizzagate in 2016

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed Wednesday that an official who once promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and called Islam a “cult” has been reassigned within the agency.

Ximena Barreto-Rice, who was hired as a deputy director of communications by HHS in December, was placed on leave early last month while the department reviewed online posts uncovered by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters.

The group revealed tweets and videos from 2016 where Barreto-Rice repeatedly pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which revolves around false claims about a nonexistent pedophilia ring run out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

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Barreto-Rice also reportedly shared an image last year saying that “our forefathers would have hung” former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for treason, and said Islam was a “f—ing cult, not a religion.”

An HHS official told The Hill on Wednesday that the agency reviewed the available online content from Barreto-Rice’s social media accounts and decided to reassign her.

“Mrs. Barreto-Rice will not to return to the public affairs department and will serve in a different role where she will work to complete several projects,” the official said.

The official added that “no complaints have been received in the usual departmental channels relative to Mrs. Barreto-Rice’s conduct during her tenure at HHS.”

In a statement shared with The Hill, Barreto-Rice apologized for “comments I made as a private citizen before I was hired at HHS.”

“In the heated and hyper-passionate political campaign environment, I made generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam. I fully understand that these emotionally-charged comments were hurtful, and I deeply apologize to members of both communities,” Barreto-Rice said.

Barreto-Rice asked for forgiveness, saying she has “many, many friends of all races and religions, and I look forward to working hand-in-hand with them all as we labor to improve our nation for future generations.”

Tags Hillary Clinton Pizzagate conspiracy theory

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