WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci during a phone call with campaign staff, calling the infectious disease specialist a "disaster" and saying every time he goes on television there is a “bomb,” but there would be “a bigger bomb if you fire him,” according to a recording of the call obtained by NBC News.
"People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots — these people, these people that have gotten it wrong," Trump said. "Fauci’s a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years. He called every one of them wrong. And he’s like this wonderful guy, a wonderful sage telling us how" to respond to the pandemic.
"If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths," Trump continued, adding seconds later, "If we listened to him, we’d have 700-800,000 deaths right now."
Trump pointed to Fauci's early comments on mask wearing and shutting down travel from China as examples of allegedly bad advice. "And yet, we keep him," Trump told those on the call. "Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him."
The president, who was speaking to campaign employees to offer optimism in the final days of the election, also told staff he is “more excited” today than he was a few weeks ago. The president's aides have voiced concern about the current polling landscape in the race against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with only two weeks until Election Day.
Trump added that there's "a lot of cheating going on," claiming without evidence that Democrats will do so in order to defeat him.
"You know they'll be cheating like crazy because they always cheat," he said. "The only way we can lose this election is if they cheat. OK, that's the only way."
“Keep your eyes open and report them to law enforcement at the strongest level. … We have law enforcement watching. We have U.S. attorneys, sheriffs, everybody is watching. Postal inspectors hopefully are watching,” he continued, insisting his campaign has never looked better. “We’re going to win. This is the highest point we’ve ever been,” he said, adding, “My whole life has been about winning.”
Of the Biden people, he said: “They’re trying to kill our enthusiasm with bad press because they’re sick people. They’re mentally ill.” The president urged his staff to work hard and not read the papers because they’re “suppression stories, suppression polls.”
After the campaign call, Trump continued to trash Fauci in a pair of tweets.
Trump also attacked Fauci and Biden with the same attack line during a campaign rally in Arizona later Monday.
"This is all a choice between getting a safe vaccine, or really a lockdown," Trump told the crowd. "You know Biden wants to lock it down, he wants to listen to Dr. Fauci."
Trump added, “A lot of our people don’t like him — I like him.”
Biden responded to Trump's attacks on Fauci in a statement later Monday.
"Coronavirus infections are spiking across the country, but President Trump decided to attack Dr. Fauci again today as a 'disaster' and call public health experts 'idiots' instead of laying out a plan to beat this virus or heeding their advice about how we can save lives and get our economy moving again," he said. "President Trump even criticized me yesterday for listening to the scientists — that’s not an attack, that’s a badge of honor."
The coronavirus pandemic is also one of the topics at Thursday final presidential debate. Trump's campaign, however, objected to the selected topics and said that both campaigns agreed that the subject would be foreign policy. They claimed that other topics benefit Biden and that there is little focus on foreign policy.
"It is completely irresponsible for the Commission to alter the focus of this final debate just days before the event, solely Biden from his own history," Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager wrote in a letter to the debate commission.
Biden campaign spokesperson TJ Ducklo responded in a statement, saying "the Trump campaign is lying."
"Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs," Ducklo said in a statement.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring this year, came to Fauci's defense on Twitter, calling him "one of our country's most distinguished public servants."
"If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, & it would be safer to go back to school & back to work & out to eat," Alexander wrote.
Trump's remarks come after Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked whether he is surprised the president contracted Covid-19 during an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night.
"Absolutely not. I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask," Fauci said. "When I saw that on TV, I said: 'Oh, my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that, that's going to be a problem.' And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event."
Fauci was referring to the Rose Garden news conference in late September at which Trump announced that he was nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Afterward, a number of people who participated in the event, including Trump, tested positive for Covid-19.
Fauci said during the interview that Trump "sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness," which the doctor said doesn't make sense. He said he believes Trump's efforts to push back against his recommendations regarding the coronavirus pandemic has less to do with the president being "anti-science" and more with him making a statement.
"I think deep down, he believes in science. If he didn't, he would not have entrusted his health to the very competent physicians at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center," Fauci said about Trump’s recent visit to the hospital to receive treatment for Covid.
In the wide-ranging interview, Fauci discussed a Trump campaign ad that he says took his words from earlier this year being taken out of context. He told CBS that he "got really ticked off" about that.
He also said that the White House has blocked him from going on a number of shows that have requested interviews with him.
"I think there has been a restriction," Fauci said. "But it isn't consistent."