Trump administration declines to fire HHS official Ximena Barreto over bigoted and conspiratorial remarks

Barreto was placed on leave following Media Matters report

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will retain political appointee Ximena Barreto, who had been placed on leave for making bigoted and conspiratorial remarks as a right-wing commentator.

Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) joined the administration in December 2017 as a deputy communications director. Prior to that, she was a fringe media personality who used the screen name “RepublicanChick.” She posted commentaries online and briefly co-hosted a YouTube show. Barreto also said she helped President Donald Trump’s efforts in California during the 2016 election.

On April 9, Media Matters documented Barreto’s history of toxic remarks. For example:

  • Barreto repeatedly pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory that prominent political figures were trafficking children through a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant.
  • Barreto claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people.”
  • Barreto labeled Islam “a fucking cult” and said that it has “no place” in the United States.
  • Barreto said that marching in the 2017 Women’s March was “retarded” because “they’re marching in a country where we have rights.”
  • Barreto stated that the “main goal” of “the media and the Democrats is to cause a civil war because at the end they’re gonna end up profiting from it.”

A compilation of the HHS official’s remarks can found here (video by John Kerr):

Media Matters found out about Barreto’s federal employment because she was added to ProPublica’s Trump Town database, which includes personnel records for thousands of appointees in Trump’s administration.

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

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Nathan McDermott 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 conspiracy theories, including about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

HHS announced on May 1 that Barreto has been allowed back to work. An HHS official told Media Matters in an email that the review was completed and she “will not to return to the public affairs department and will serve in a different role where she will work to complete several projects.”  

Barreto also issued an apology, which was provided by the department. She claimed, in part: “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.”

This piece was updated with additional information from HHS.