The angry reaction occurred after The Washington Post published a story Saturday saying the relationship between President Trump and Fauci had sharply deteriorated and that the two had not spoken since early June.
The White House provided The Post with examples of what it characterized as mistakes that Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had made about the pandemic, mostly in the early days when information about the virus was extremely limited. The White House also made the information available to other reporters, some of whom described it as “opposition research.”
Academics and researchers rallied to defend Fauci. “It’s shocking,” said Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “When you begin to discredit scientists like Fauci, who are national treasures, you are in serious trouble.”
Critics of the White House noted that some of the Fauci statements cited by the White House were taken out of context, or incomplete. Fauci has said repeatedly, especially in the early days of the outbreak, that scientists lacked sufficient information about the virus to be definitive in their statements. He said recommendations might change as new information emerged.
For example, the White House has criticized Fauci for initially saying, like other health experts, that the general public didn’t need to wear masks. But Fauci said part of that view stemmed from concerns that a short supply of N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers on the front lines. He changed his advice months ago, as more information emerged. Trump wore a mask for the first time Saturday during a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, tweeted Monday that “Donald Trump needs to spend less time playing golf and more time listening to experts like Dr. Fauci.” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who has clashed repeatedly with Trump, tweeted: “In Fauci we trust. Mask on, DC.”
Republicans were mostly silent. Charlie Dent, a former GOP congressman from Pennsylvania, was an exception. Fauci, he tweeted, “has not been well-schooled in bootlicking and sycophancy.”
During the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that so-called opposition research was not “being dumped” on reporters. She said Fauci and the president “have always had a very good working relationship.”
She said the White House “provided a direct response to a direct question” from The Post asking about a Trump comment about mistakes he claimed Fauci had made. Trump recently called Fauci “a nice man,” who has made “a lot of mistakes.”
The Post’s inquiry was wide-ranging about the deteriorating relationship between Trump and Fauci, and about suggestions Trump had soured on Fauci, especially after Fauci’s public criticism of states that reopened too quickly and about certain aspects of the response.
In a tweet Sunday, Carlos del Rio, an infectious-disease specialist at Emory University School of Medicine, accused the White House of not only sidelining Fauci but also of smearing him. “I’m deeply disturbed,” he said.
Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of the Friends of Cancer Research, a research advocacy organization, said that “while there are many facets to this pandemic, such as restoring health, economies, and education, given Dr. Fauci’s unmatched expertise, he provides a critical perspective that needs to be heard.”
Top White House aide Dan Scavino, the White House social media director and deputy chief of staff for communications, on late Sunday shared a cartoon on his Facebook page mocking Fauci.
It depicted Fauci as a faucet spewing cold water on the economy, with phrases written alongside, including “schools stay closed this fall,” “indefinite lockdown” and “no NFL season.”
Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, took issue on Twitter with criticisms that Fauci had initially said masks were not necessary and subsequently changed his mind after it became clear the coronavirus could be transmitted by people who were asymptomatic.
“That’s called science, not a mistake,” he said. “The real, deadly mistake is not listening to science.”
Joel Achenbach contributed to this story.