Now that Trump is out of power, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, can speak candidly about his time working for the former president. Fauci discussed Trump’s dislike of the truth, what it has been like receiving death threats with Donald G. McNeil Jr. of the New York Times.
Fauci said that for the first three years of the administration, the president “barely knew who I was.” He didn’t even meet Trump until more than halfway through his term, when Fauci said White House staff “asked me to come down to the White House, bring my white coat and stand there as he signed an executive order regarding something about influenza.” But that rapidly changed once the new virus began to spread, and Fauci started to come to the White House more often.
The immunologist also talked about how Trump would constantly try to minimize how dire the situation was, especially when the virus was ravaging New York in the early months of the pandemic. “I would try to express the gravity of the situation,” Fauci said. “And the response of the president was always leaning toward, ‘Well, it’s not that bad, right?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, it is that bad.’ It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it. Not saying, ‘I want you to minimize it,’ but, ‘Oh, really, was it that bad?’ “
In addition to minimizing the severity of the virus, Trump tended to believe anything his business connections would tell him about possible treatments for the virus. “He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important,” Fauci told the Times. “It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, ‘A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.’ That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.”
As Fauci became a regular fixture at White House press briefings, he increasingly saw the need to correct the president’s falsehoods if he was asked by the press about Trump’s claims: “That’s when it became clear to me: I’m not going to proactively go out and volunteer my contradiction of what the president said. But he would say something that clearly was not correct, and then a reporter would say, ‘Well, let’s hear from Dr. Fauci.’ I would have to get up and say, ‘No, I’m sorry, I do not think that is the case.’ “
Fauci continued, “I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I made a decision that I just had to. Otherwise, I would be compromising my own integrity, and be giving a false message to the world. If I didn’t speak up, it would be almost tacit approval that what he was saying was OK.”
The doctor also spoke about how he and his family have been regularly receiving death threats and described one particularly scary incident involving an envelope with powder. “One day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest,” he said. “That was very, very disturbing to me and my wife because it was in my office.” Although the powder ended up being “a benign nothing” according to Fauci, he said it was “frightening” nonetheless.
Despite this, Fauci never considered resigning. “I felt that if I stepped down, that would leave a void,” he said. “Someone’s got to not be afraid to speak out the truth.”