In his bluntest interview yet, Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed Sunday that the White House has been controlling when he can speak to the media during the pandemic, the latest example of rising tensions between President Donald Trump and the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Fauci sat down to speak on “60 Minutes,” in which he spoke more candidly than in the past about his growing frustration around President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 response and getting involuntarily caught up in politics.
“During this pandemic, has the White House been controlling when you can speak with the media?” Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News chief medical correspondent, asked the doctor.
“You know, I think I’d have to be honest and say yes,” answered Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force. “I certainly have not been allowed to go on many, many, many shows that have asked for me.”
LaPook then called Fauci “one of the most trusted voices in America” who, in a time of much-needed transparency of information, is barred from speaking to the public.
“You know I think there has been a restriction, Jon, but … it isn’t consistent,” Fauci said.
The comments come about a week after ABC’s “This Week” host Jon Karl said that the White House refused to allow Fauci on the show despite the doctor being willing to appear. At least two other networks ― CBS and NBC ― also tried and failed to book Fauci for their respective Sunday morning political talk shows that week.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah tweeted Sunday that Karl’s allegations were false and that Fauci appeared on several TV news shows earlier in the week. She also said that Karl never requested another member of the coronavirus task force in Fauci’s place.
But Karl pushed back, tweeting that Farah was “not telling the truth” and attaching an image of an email he allegedly sent her asking if Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx or several other public health officials would appear on the show if Fauci were unavailable.
“The truth matters,” the host wrote to Farah. “The requests for Dr. Fauci and the other members of the task force were made directly to you ― multiple times.”
Trump unleashed a slew of attacks on Fauci Monday, likely in response to the “60 Minutes” interview. The president said on a campaign call that Americans are “tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots” talk about the virus. He called the doctor “a disaster” and said there’s “always a bomb” when he appears on television.
Fauci “says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60 Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “All I ask Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in’. Also, Bad arm!”
Fauci, who is notoriously apolitical, has been growing more visibly frustrated as the president continues to undermine him and other public health experts on safety protocols and potential treatments throughout the pandemic ― even after the president himself tested positive for the virus following multiple superspreader events.
The Trump campaign released a new ad last week featuring what appeared to be Fauci praising Trump’s response to the pandemic. The ad features a video clip of an interview the doctor gave on Fox News in March, when the pandemic was beginning to lead to lockdowns across the country.
“I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more,” Fauci is heard saying right after the video’s narrator praises the president’s response to the pandemic. The doctor said his words were taken out of context ― which he reiterated in Sunday’s interview ― and demanded the ad be taken down, but the Trump campaign continued to run it in key battleground states.
“I do not and nor will I ever publicly endorse any political candidate. And here I am, they’re sticking me right in the middle of a campaign ad, which I thought was outrageous,” Fauci said. “I was referring to something entirely different. I was referring to the grueling work of the task force that, ‘God, we were knocking ourselves out seven days a week. I don’t think we could have possibly have done any more than that.’”
“Did the steam start to come out of your ears?” LaPook asked the doctor.
“It did, quite frankly,” Fauci answered. “I got really ticked off.”
This article has been updated to include Trump’s latest attacks on Fauci.