The Slatest

White House Moves to Discredit Fauci as Disagreements With Trump Become Evident

Fauci, seated, looks down as he writes with a pen
Anthony Fauci at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington on June 30. Al Drago/Getty Images

For months, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the face of the White House response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the government’s top infectious disease specialist is being sidelined, and the administration appears to be actively trying to discredit the career civil servant with more than 50 years in government service under his belt. Both the Washington Post and NBC News received a list from an unnamed administration official that pointed out comments that Fauci had made earlier about the coronavirus outbreak that were later proved to be wrong. “Several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things,” an official told both of the outlets.

What was included in the list? Fauci’s comments in January that the coronavirus was “not a major threat.” It also included assurances by Fauci that asymptomatic carriers did not play a significant role in spreading COVID-19 and his comment in March that “people should not be walking around with masks,” among others. Even Fauci’s supporters acknowledge that the 79-year-old head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases made lots of mistakes early on in the coronavirus crisis. But he was hardly alone. Case in point: Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged Sunday that the administration was “trying to correct” earlier messaging that advised against wearing face masks. “We follow the science and when we learn more, our recommendations change,” he said. Adams went back in history to explain how these types of mistakes can happen: “Well, it’s important for people to understand that once upon a time, we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics and leeches and cocaine and heroin for people as medical treatments. When we learned better, we do better.”

The administration is distributing a document against Fauci that is “more characteristic of a political campaign furtively disseminating ‘opposition research’ about an opponent than of a White House struggling to contain a pandemic,” as NBC puts it, at a time when Fauci is being clearly sidelined and is increasingly making his disagreements with the Trump administration public. Fauci told the Financial Times that he hasn’t briefed President Donald Trump on the pandemic for at least two months and he last saw Trump in person at the White House on June 2, as it has also become obvious that the administration is blocking television appearances. “I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things,” Fauci told the Financial Times. “And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately.”

Tensions between Fauci and the White House only grew this week after he disputed during a Facebook Live event Trump’s assertion that a lower death rate showed the United States was making progress. The argument is a “false narrative,” Fauci said. Trump openly criticized Fauci on Thursday during an interview with Sean Hannity, saying that he “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” In the Trump White House, this type of treatment usually means someone is about to get fired, but the president can’t directly get rid of him and officials insist there is no plan to do that. For now, the administration appears to be trying to discredit Fauci so Americans are less likely to listen to him and more inclined to believe Trump’s optimism as Election Day gets closer.

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