Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House’s coronavirus response team, came to President Donald Trump’s defense late Wednesday, telling Fox News that he does not believe Trump intentionally “distorted” information about the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier Wednesday, veteran journalist Bob Woodward released excerpts of his forthcoming book on the president — excerpts that came from nearly 20 hours of conversation with Trump — including a passage that suggests Trump deliberately downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic in order to tamp down Americans’ panic.
Trump reportedly said he “wanted to always play it [the pandemic] down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” according to Woodward. Trump added, the book contends, that he did not understand the true extent of the virus’s impact when the first reports of coronavirus emerged in late January and early February.
Trump defended the comment, noting in a press conference that he was referring to how he handled public statements about the ongoing pandemic, controlling his comments so that he did not incite unwarranted panic.
“The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump said. “I love our country, and I don’t want people to be frightened.”
“We don’t want to instill panic,” the president added. “We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem.”
Fauci, whom the media have often portrayed as at odds with the president over how to handle the COVID-19 outbreak that nearly brought the nation to a three-month standstill, stepped to the president’s defense on Wednesday, telling Fox News that the president never deliberately distorted information that he was given about the pandemic and that Trump delivered remarks on the virus consistent with what his top advisors were telling him about COVID-19.
“I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything,” Fauci said. “I mean in my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had. We related that to him. And when he would go out, I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things. He would often say, ‘We just got through with a briefing with the group from the task force,’ and would talk about it. So it may have happened, but I have not seen that kind of distortion.”
Fauci also insisted that Trump did not break with his advisors when it came to how to handle the public face of the White House’s coronavirus efforts.
“I don’t recall anything different than in our discussions that we had with the president that he said things quite similar publicly,” Fauci said.
“I didn’t really go over any of the text since it just came out,” Fauci said, referring to Woodward’s claims. “But you know, in my discussions and the discussions of other task force members with the president, we’re talking about the reality of what was going on.”
“And then when we would get up in front of the press conferences, which were very, very common after our discussions with the president, he really didn’t say anything different than we discussed when we were with him,” Fauci continued, per Fox News. “I may not be tuned in to the right thing that they’re talking about. But, I didn’t see any discrepancies between what he told us and what we told him, and what he came out publicly and said.”
Woodward also claims Fauci impugned the president’s attention span, a claim Fauci refuted.
“I don’t recall that at all,” Fauci said.