Fauci on What Working for Trump Was Really Like

Author : antwann32
Publish Date : 2021-01-25 15:50:37


Fauci on What Working for Trump Was Really Like

For almost 40 years, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has held two jobs. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he has run one of the country’s premier research institutions. But he has also been an adviser to seven presidents, from Ronald Reagan to, now, Joseph R. Biden Jr., called upon whenever a health crisis looms to brief the administration, address the World Health Organization, testify before Congress or meet with the news media.

For Dr. Fauci, 80, the past year has stood out like no other. As the coronavirus ravaged the country, Dr. Fauci’s calm counsel and commitment to hard facts endeared him to millions of Americans. But he also became a villain to millions of others. Trump supporters chanted “Fire Fauci,” and the president mused openly about doing so. He was accused of inventing the virus and of being part of a secret cabal with Bill Gates and George Soros to profit from vaccines. His family received death threats. On Jan. 21, appearing in his first press briefing under the Biden administration, Dr. Fauci described the “liberating feeling” of once again being able to “get up here and talk about what you know — what the evidence, what the science is — and know that’s it, let the science speak.”

In an hourlong conversation with The New York Times over the weekend, Dr. Fauci described some of the difficulties, and the toll, of working with President Donald J. Trump. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

When did you first realize things were going wrong between you and President Trump?

It coincided very much with the rapid escalation of cases in the northeastern part of the country, particularly the New York metropolitan area. I would try to express the gravity of the situation, and the response of the president was always leaning toward, “Well, it’s not that bad, right?” And I would say, “Yes, it is that bad.” It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it. Not saying, “I want you to minimize it,” but, “Oh, really, was it that bad?”

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And the other thing that made me really concerned was, it was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, “Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?” or, “Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.” And I would try to, you know, calmly explain that you find out if something works by doing an appropriate clinical trial; you get the information, you give it a peer review. And he’d say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this stuff really works.”

He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, “A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.” That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.

Did you have any problems with him in the first three years of his presidency?

No, he barely knew who I was. The first time I met him was in September 2019, when they asked me to come down to the White House, bring my white coat and stand there as he signed an executive order regarding something about influenza. Then, starting in January, February of 2020, it was an intense involvement going down to the White House very, very frequently.

There was a point last February when things changed. Alex Azar was running the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and then suddenly Mike Pence was, and President Trump was at the podium taking the questions and arguing with reporters. What happened?

To be totally honest with you, I don’t know. We were having, you know, the standard kind of scientifically based, public-health-based meetings. Then I started getting anxious that this was not going in the right direction — the anecdotally driven situations, the minimization, the president surrounding himself with people saying things that didn’t make any scientific sense. We would say things like: “This is an outbreak. Infectious diseases run their own course unless one does something to intervene.” And then he would get up and start talking about, “It’s going to go away, it’s magical, it’s going to disappear.”

That’s when it became clear to me: I’m not going to proactively go out and volunteer my contradiction of what the president said. But he would say something that clearly was not correct, and then a reporter would say, “Well, let’s hear from Dr. Fauci.” I would have to get up and say, “No, I’m sorry, I do not think that is the case.” It isn’t like I took any pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States. I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I made a decision that I just had to. Otherwise I would be compromising my own integrity, and be giving a false message to the world. If I didn’t speak up, it would be almost tacit approval that what he was saying was OK.

That’s when I started to get into some trouble. The people around him, his inner circle, were quite upset that I would dare publicly contradict the president. That’s when we started getting into things I felt were unfortunate and somewhat nefarious — namely, allowing Peter Navarro to write an editorial in USA Today saying I’m wrong on most of the things I say. Or to have the White House press office send out a detailed list of things I said that turned out to be not true — all of which were nonsense because they were all true. The very press office that was making decisions as to whether I can go on a TV show or talk to you.

ImageDr. Fauci and Vice President Mike Pence listening as President Donald Trump spoke last March during a coronavirus briefing at the White House.
Dr. Fauci and Vice President Mike Pence listening as President Donald Trump spoke last March during a coronavirus briefing at the White House.Credit...Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Were you ever taken to the woodshed? Did anyone say, “Stop disagreeing with the president”?
It wasn’t that. After a TV interview or a story in a major newspaper, someone senior, like Mark Meadows, would call me up expressing concern that I was going out of my way to contradict the president.
Did Peter Navarro or Dr. Scott Atlas, another adviser to the president, or anybody else confront you directly?
Oh, no. Peter Navarro, for some strange reason, had a thing about me. He came in one day, and he had a whole list of reprints that were completely nonsense. And he says, “How dare you say that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work? I have 25 papers here that says it works!” That’s when we had a little bit of sharp words in the Situation Room. After that, I said I didn’t want to be bothered with him. I don’t like to be confronting people. After he wrote that editorial, the papers wanted me to lash back at him. I didn’t want to do that.

There were a couple of times where I would make a statement that was a pessimistic viewpoint about what direction we were going, and the president would call me up and say, “Hey, why aren’t you more positive? You’ve got to take a positive attitude. Why are you so negativistic? Be more positive.”

He didn’t say, “This is killing the stock market” or “This is killing my chances for re-election”?

No, he didn’t do that kind of specificity. He just expressed disappointment.

When did the death threats start?

Wow. Many, many months ago. In the spring. Hold on — just bear with me. [He consults someone who answers “March 28.”] So there — you got it from the head of my Secret Service detail. That’s when I got protection, so maybe two weeks prior to that.

It was the harassment of my wife, and particularly my children, that upset me more than anything else. They knew where my kids work, where they live. The threats would come directly to my children’s phones, directly to my children’s homes. How the hell did whoever these assholes were get that information? And there was chatter on the internet, people talking to each other, threatening, saying, “Hey, we got to get rid of this guy. What are we going to do about him? He’s hurting the president’s chances.” You know, that kind of right-wing craziness.

Were you ever shot at or confronted?

No, but one day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest.

That was very, very disturbing to me and my wife because it was in my office. So I just looked at it all over me and said, “What do I do?” The security detail was there, and they’re very experienced in that. They said, “Don’t move, stay in the room.” And they got the hazmat people. So they came, they sprayed me down and all that.

Did they test the powder?

Yeah. It was a benign nothing. But it was frightening. My wife and my children were more disturbed than I was. I looked at it somewhat fatalistically. It had to be one of three things: A hoax. Or anthrax, which meant I’d have to go on Cipro for a month. Or if it was ricin, I was dead, so bye-bye.

Was Mr. Trump told?

I have no idea.

Did you alert anyone around him? As in, “Hey, you’re going to get me killed?”

No, no. I didn’t. Who was I going to tell? What good would it be to tell anyone? Also, it was under F.B.I. investigation, and they don’t like you to talk about it.

Did anyone close to Mr. Trump ever say, “We were wrong, you were right”?

No. No.

Even after he got so sick that he had to be flown to Walter Reed hospital?

No.

Did the president ever ask you for medical advice?

No. When he was in Walter Reed and he was getting monoclonal antibodies, he said, “Tony, this really just made a big difference. I feel much, much better. This is really good stuff.” I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but I said, “Well, no, this is an N equals 1. You may have been starting to feel better anyway.” [In scientific literature, an experiment with just one subject is described as “n = 1.”] And he said, “Oh, no, no no, absolutely not. This stuff is really good. It just completely turned me around.” So I figured the better part of valor would be not to argue with him.

There was one time — we were in the Oval Office sitting in the chairs around the Resolute Desk. We had this interesting relationship, kind of a New York City camaraderie thing where we kind of liked each other in the sense of “Hey, two guys from New York.” And he was holding forth on some particular intervention, and saying something that clearly was not based on any data or evidence. There were a bunch of people there, and he turned to me and said, “Well, Tony, what do you think?” And I said, you know, I think that’s not true at all because I don’t see any evidence to make you think that that’s the case. And he said, “Oh, well,” and then went on to something else.

Then I heard through the grapevine that there were people in the White House who got really surprised, if not offended, that I would dare contradict what the president said in front of everybody. And I was, “Well, he asked me my opinion. What do you want me to say?”

But no confrontation?

No, he was fine. To his credit, he didn’t get upset at all.

Later he joked with crowds about firing you. How did that make you feel?

I thought he wasn’t going to do it. I think that’s the way he is. People said, “Oh, weren’t you horrif



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