Politics

Fauci says White House's 'bizarre' efforts to discredit him hurt Trump, adds Peter Navarro is 'in a world by himself'

Key Points
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he has not considered resigning from his lead role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Fauci said to The Atlantic that the "bizarre" recent efforts from White House officials to discredit him ultimately harm President Donald Trump.
  • Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, also included some harsh words for Trump's trade advisor: "I can't explain Peter Navarro; he's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there."
Dr. Anthony Fauci (R), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the "bizarre" recent efforts from White House officials to discredit him ultimately harm President Donald Trump, and offered some choice words for the president's trade advisor Peter Navarro.

"I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that," Fauci said in an interview with The Atlantic published Wednesday. Fauci was responding to a list shared over the weekend by a White House official that resembled an opposition research-type document used in political campaigns, highlighting Fauci's past comments about the coronavirus.

That list, Fauci told the outlet, "is totally wrong. It's nonsense. It's completely wrong. The whole thing is wrong. The whole thing is incorrect."

"I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them," said Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, in the interview.

He was also asked about a scathing op-ed published Tuesday night by Navarro, who wrote that Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on."

"I can't explain Peter Navarro; he's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there," Fauci said.

Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro speaks to members of the press outside the West Wing of the White House June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

The White House said earlier Wednesday that it had not approved Navarro's article.

Navarro's op-ed, which was published in USA Today, "didn't go through normal White House clearance processes," White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said on Twitter.

The piece is "the opinion of Peter alone," Farah said in the tweet, adding that Trump "values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration."

Trump, when asked in the Oval Office later Wednesday if he was OK with the piece, said, "That's Peter Navarro, but I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci."

The administration's efforts to distance itself from Navarro's article came days after the White House denied it is seeking to discredit Fauci, who has provided sometimes dire warnings about the trajectory of the coronavirus that clash with Trump's more optimistic rhetoric.

VIDEO3:5503:55
Dr. Fauci's blunt assessment of U.S. coronavirus spikes

"To the notion that there's opposition research and that there's Fauci versus the president, it couldn't be further from the truth," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at a press briefing Monday. "Dr. Fauci and the president have always had a very good working relationship."

Trump said Monday that while "I don't always agree with" Fauci, "we get along very well, I like him personally."

Fauci also told The Atlantic he would not resign as a leader in the nation's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think the problem is too important for me to get into those kinds of thoughts and discussions. I just want to do my job. I'm really good at it. I think I can contribute. And I'm going to keep doing it," Fauci said.

Still, Fauci acknowledged that "obviously, we've got to do better. We've got to almost reset this and say, 'Okay, let's stop this nonsense.'"

Fauci said he spoke Monday with Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about the list of his prior remarks that was circulated by the White House.

"Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that. When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president," Fauci told The Atlantic. "And I don't really want to hurt the president. But that's what's happening. I told him I thought it was a big mistake. That doesn't serve any good purpose for what we're trying to do."

Meadows did not apologize and said he didn't know about the list, according to Fauci. But two officials told NBC News reported later Wednesday that Meadows advised White House staff to stop attacking Fauci.

Meadows "wasn't happy" about the op-ed, one of the officials told NBC.

Other White House officials have recently taken shots at Fauci. Over the weekend, Trump's close aide Dan Scavino reportedly shared a political cartoon mocking Fauci by portraying him as a faucet whose spout drips alarming messages about the pandemic — such as "Schools stay closed this fall!" and "Indefinite lockdown!" — that threaten to drown the economy.

"Sorry, Dr. Faucet! At least you know if I'm going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it's done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks," Scavino wrote on Facebook alongside the post. "See you tomorrow!"

Navarro wrote in his USA Today article that Fauci "has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on."

The trade advisor accuses Fauci of having "fought against the president's courageous decision" in late January to restrict travel to the U.S. from China, and for downplaying the risk of a possible pandemic when the virus first started to emerge. 

"Now Fauci says a falling mortality rate doesn't matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening," Navarro wrote. Administration officials including Trump have recently pointed out that the mortality rate has not increased in line with the surge of cases currently being experienced in a number of Southern and Western states. "The lower the mortality rate, the faster and more we can open," Navarro wrote.

"So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci's advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution," Navarro wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, on Wednesday afternoon tweeted a photo of himself sitting next to Fauci during a "productive" meeting of the group.