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.
The move by the White House comes as President Donald Trump and Fauci are not speaking. The tension between the two men has grown publicly as the two have responded to one another through interviews and statements.
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.
“As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci said in one interview. In another, Fauci responded to the President’s claim that “99%” of coronavirus cases in the United States were “totally harmless,” saying he didn’t know where the President got the number, and suggesting Trump’s interpretation was “obviously not the case.”
Trump has taken to publicly criticizing Fauci on national television.
In recent interviews, he openly questioned the advice he’d received from Fauci at the start of the outbreak.
“I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview Tuesday when questioned about Fauci’s assertion the US is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
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 interviews where he openly disagrees with what Trump has said.
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.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said Sunday evening that any effort by the White House to sideline or discredit Fauci is “just atrocious.”
Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” that such a move “is so characteristic of Donald Trump. He can’t stand the fact that the American people trust Dr. Fauci and they don’t trust Donald Trump — and so he has to tear him down.”
“We need people more than ever to speak truth to power, to be able to level with the American people about what we’re facing with this pandemic, how to get it under control, how to protect ourselves and our families,” Schiff continued. “That’s what Dr. Fauci has been trying to do and by sidelining him the President is once again interfering with an effective response to this pandemic.”
Kathleen Sebelius, who served as secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama, told CNN efforts to discredit Fauci and other scientists are “potentially very, very dangerous” as the US and other countries work toward a coronavirus vaccine.
“I think people want to know from the scientists that the vaccine is safe, that it is effective, that it will not do more harm than good,” she told Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
“And if the public scientists have been discredited, if the President says ‘don’t believe them, you can’t listen to them, they’re often wrong,’ we have then undermined a national vaccination campaign which is an essential step to bringing this horrible period to an end.”
In response to questions about the White House appearing to actively discredit Fauci, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, said there was no White House-versus-the scientists narrative, and provided a statement.
“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 did not return a request for comment by CNN.
This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Adam Schiff and Kathleen Sebelius.