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Trump publicly criticizes Fauci to discredit him

Published on July 13, 2020 7:21 AM
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Washington (CNN)The White House is making a concerted effort to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci as he becomes increasingly vocal about his concerns over reopening the country amid a national surge in coronavirus cases. The moves to undercut Fauci come just days after he gave an unvarnished look at his relationship with President Donald Trump, including that they have not spoken in weeks.

The tension between the two men -- who are no longer speaking, CNN reported last week -- has grown publicly as they have responded to one another through interviews and statements. But recent moves by the White House to publicly diminish the nation's top infectious disease expert amounts to a significant escalation as it seeks to divert attention from the government's failure to contain the coronavirus and instead push Trump's call to reopen the country. That effort continued Monday morning, when the President retweeted a baseless claim by game show host Chuck Woolery that "everyone is lying" about the coronavirus -- including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a statement Saturday, a White House official told CNN that "several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things." The official went on to provide a lengthy list of examples, citing Fauci's comments early in the pandemic and linking to past interviews.
These bullet points, which resembled opposition research on a political opponent, included Fauci downplaying the virus early on and a quote from March when Fauci said, "People should not be walking around with masks," among other comments. Not included were previous statements from the surgeon general urging people not to buy masks or an acknowledgment of the President's own false claims and misstatements about the virus.
Fauci did not return a request for comment by CNN. But in a recent series of newspaper and radio interviews, Fauci, who has worked under six US presidents from both parties, has at times openly disagreed with Trump.
In particular, a recent interview with the Financial Times in which Fauci disclosed that he has not briefed the President in weeks prompted the White House to distribute the list of Fauci statements, an aide familiar with the matter said. Among other things, Fauci disputed Trump's claim that "99%" of coronavirus cases in the United States were "totally harmless" -- saying that was "obviously not the case" -- and drew a connection between his insistence on "speaking the truth at all times" to his noticeably diminished television appearances.
A person familiar with the situation acknowledged that Fauci has been appearing on television less frequently because Trump is annoyed by his public statements. Though Trump was already miffed by Fauci's television appearances early on, the White House has sought to downplay tension between the two for several months. The press shop stopped approving Fauci's television appearances, believing it would help alleviate the situation, though they continued to allow him to give interviews with print outlets.
Another person familiar has said the rare in-person meetings between Trump and Fauci are not awkward and don't involve raised voices, but Trump has complained about Fauci privately. Sources say part of that irritation is over the "good press" Fauci has received. Trump's irritation with Fauci has also, at times, been encouraged by Peter Navarro, Trump's trade adviser who has repeatedly blamed Fauci for doubting the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.
Navarro once told Fauci he would be personally responsible if it was later shown that hydroxychloroquine worked to treat coronavirus, despite multiple studies questioning its use.
One senior administration official told CNN that some officials within the White House do not trust Fauci. According to the source, those officials think Fauci doesn't have the best interest of the President, pointing to some of Fauci's interviews. Other administration officials have told CNN that while they have disagreements with Fauci's methods, they don't doubt his motives, and that his only concern was public health.
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Adm. Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said there is "open discourse" within the team.
"I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100% right and he also doesn't necessarily -- and he admits that -- have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view," Giroir said.
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at Health and Human Services Michael Caputo said Sunday there was no White House-versus-the scientists narrative.
"We have great faith in the capacity of all of our scientists and doctors on the coronavirus taskforce to impart necessary public health information. People like Admiral (Brett) Giroir, Surgeon General (Jerome) Adams and others are carrying these messages very effectively," Caputo said in the statement, although he did not directly answer questions about Fauci.
Fauci is scheduled to be in the West Wing Monday for meetings.