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HHS official placed on leave over 2016 comments promoting Pizzagate

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By Nathaniel Weixel,  The Hill

An official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been placed on administrative leave after comments she made promoting the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory were made public.

According to videos and tweets first uncovered by Media Matters, Ximena Barreto, a deputy director of communications at HHS, repeatedly pushed false claims about the nonexistent pedophilia ring run out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, as well as making disparaging comments about African-Americans and Muslims.

An HHS spokeswoman told The Hill that Barreto "has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed."

Barreto was hired by HHS in December 2017.

In November 2016, she tweeted that efforts by Hillary Clinton supporters to start an election recount were "a hoax so we get distracted from #Pizzagate."

She made similar claims in a Periscope video that month.

"Don't listen to the recount, and relax. We've got to use all of our efforts into Pizzagate and not let that one die because that's what the mainstream media is trying to get distracted from. So check all the Pizzagate stuff," Barreto said in the video.

The Pizzagate conspiracy theory posited without evidence that high-ranking Democrats were involved in a nonexistent child sex-trafficking circle. In December 2016, a man motivated by the conspiracy theory fired a gun in the business.

Many of Barreto's comments no longer exist online, and her Twitter account is locked. The Hill viewed the posts and videos through content archives.

In addition to promoting Pizzagate, Barreto in the same 2016 Periscope video talked about "reverse racism" and said "African-Americans are way more racist than white people."

She also said Islam was a "f---ing cult, not a religion."

In a separate video, Barreto asked whether members of the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated Congress.

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