Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator in the Trump administration, described an "uncomfortable" call with President Donald Trump after an interview with CNN in August in which she discussed the threat posed by Covid-19.
"Well, I think you've heard other conversations that people have posted with the president," Birx said as part of a CNN documentary, "Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out," which is airing in full Sunday evening. "I would say it was even more direct than what people have heard. It was very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear."
In the segment, which CNN released Sunday, Birx was asked whether she was threatened in the call.
"I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation," she said.
In a clip released earlier by CNN, Birx said the Trump administration could have prevented hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths had it acted more forcefully to mitigate the pandemic.
"I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge," Birx said. "All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."
The virus has killed more than 551,000 people in the U.S., according to NBC News' tracker. The initial spring wave was followed by surges over the summer and the winter, which proved to be the deadliest stretch.
Within weeks of Covid-19 shutdown measures' being put in place, Trump, who would later contract the virus and be hospitalized, began pushing for cities and states to reopen. He also pitched unproven treatments for the virus and questioned the need to wear face coverings.
Birx, who has spoken out about her experience on Trump's coronavirus task force repeatedly in recent months, has taken heat for not having been more critical. Last March, she praised Trump for being "so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data" about the outbreak.
Such past commentary led to backlash over her latest remarks.
"The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former president and his enablers," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted. "And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him."
She was also criticized last year for traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend after having warned Americans to avoid travel and gatherings with people outside their immediate households.
On Monday, Trump released a lengthy statement taking multiple swipes at both Birx and infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci and describes them as being "like a bad habit!"
"Dr. Birx is a proven liar with very little credibility left," he said. "Many of her recommendations were viewed as 'pseudo-science.'"
"There was no 'very difficult' phone call, other than Dr. Birx’s policies that would have led us directly into a COVID caused depression," Trump said in the statement. "She was a very negative voice who didn’t have the right answers."