After apologizing for toxic remarks, HHS official now claims she was the target of a “smear campaign”

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Ximena Barreto issued a statement last month saying she “deeply” apologizes for making “generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam.” Barreto is now backtracking by claiming that she is the victim of a “smear campaign.”

Barreto is a former right-wing pundit who joined HHS in December 2017 as a deputy communications director. Media Matters reported on April 9 that Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) has a history of making toxic remarks. She claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people,” labeled Islam “a fucking cult” that has “no place” in the United States, pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and attacked the “retarded” 2017 Women’s March. Here is a video from Media Matters’ John Kerr of some of her worst remarks: 

Media Matters originally found out about Barreto’s federal employment because she was added to ProPublica’s Trump Town, a database of Trump administration political appointees.

Following the publication of Media Matters’ report, HHS issued a statement saying Barreto “has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed.”

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Nathan McDermott additionally reported on April 13 that Barreto “shared an image in 2017 that said ‘our forefathers would have hung’ Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason.” CNN also “found that Barreto also repeatedly used the hashtag #BanIslam” and pushed other conspiracy theories, including about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

In May, HHS announced that it would not fire Barreto and reassigned her to the department’s Administration for Children and Families. HHS also provided an apology from Barreto for her remarks, which stated, in part: “Comments I made as I private citizen before I was hired at HHS were brought to light by concerned members of the press. 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.”

That apology appears to be a sham -- at least, according to a recent tweet from Barreto herself. Mediaite's Caleb Ecarma reported today that Barreto recently attacked CNN for purportedly conducting a “smear campaign” against her (CNN did not smear Barreto). She tweeted on June 14: “Locked my account after CNNs (sic) smear campaign, received too many threats and packages delivered to my home.” After Ecarma asked her for comment, Barreto reportedly deleted the CNN tweet and shut down her private Twitter account. 

Mediaite also “conducted an extensive review of her social media posts and found that the HHS appointee pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory even more than previously reported. … In total, Mediaite found that Barreto tweeted about variations of the Pizzagate conspiracy at least 17 times.”

A Media Matters request for comment to HHS was not immediately returned as of posting.