Trump defends Fauci relationship despite White House efforts to discredit him

The comments came a day after the White House gave reporters a memo listing what it claimed were erroneous comments by Fauci.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci during a hearing on Capitol Hill on June 30.Kevin Dietsch / Pool via AP

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By Shannon Pettypiece

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted on Monday that he "personally" likes Dr. Anthony Fauci, as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied the White House was working to discredit the country’s leading infectious disease expert.

"I don't always agree with him," Trump said at a White House event. "We get along very well, I like him personally."

The comments came a day after a White House official gave an opposition research-style memo to NBC News and other news outlets listing nearly a dozen past comments, some taken out of context, by Fauci that the official said had ultimately proven erroneous.

“To the notion that there’s opposition research and that there’s Fauci versus the president couldn’t be further from the truth," McEnany said a briefing at the White House. "Dr. Fauci and the president have always had a very good working relationship."

McEnany said that the document was produced in response to a newspaper inquiry and that there was "no opposition research being dumped to reporters."

"We were asked a very specific question by the Washington Post and that question was President Trump noted that Dr. Fauci had made some mistakes, and we provided a direct answer to what was a direct question," McEnany said.

McEnany described Fauci's role as "one of many on the task force who provides advice."

Fauci and Trump have been at odds in issuing public health guidance since the early days of the pandemic, as Trump has struggled to minimize the impact the disease is having on the U.S. economy. The differing public statements have stoked speculation the Trump could fire Fauci or remove him for the White House task force.

In recent days, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has deviated from Trump by disputing that the U.S. is "doing great" and by faulting the decision in some states to reopen too quickly and to sidestep the task force's suggested criteria for when it's safe to loosen restrictions. In a particularly alarming prediction, Fauci said he wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. was soon adding 100,000 new cases a day — a figure that would reflect an abject failure to slow the spread.

A leading medical group, the Association of American Medical Colleges, issued a statement Monday in support of Fauci saying it was "extremely concerned and alarmed" by efforts to discredit him.

"Taking quotes from Dr. Fauci out of context to discredit his scientific knowledge and judgment will do tremendous harm to our nation’s efforts to get the virus under control, restore our economy, and return us to a more normal way of life," AAMC president David J. Skorton and AAMC Chief Scientific Officer Ross McKinney said in the statement. "America should be applauding Dr. Fauci for his service and following his advice, not undermining his credibility at this critical time.”

The list of Fauci's comments compiled by the White House, first reported by The Washington Post, includes Fauci's saying in January — weeks before the first reported COVID-19 death in the U.S. — that the virus was "not a major threat for the people in the U.S." A month later, Trump told Americans that the virus would simply "disappear" like a "miracle."