Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease expert, has criticised Donald Trump’s reelection campaign for using his words out of context to make it appear as if he was praising the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci said in a statement to CNN on Sunday. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the [Republican] campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”
In the video released on Saturday, Fauci can be heard saying “I can’t imagine that … anyone could be doing more” as the advert boasts of Trump’s response to Covid-19, which has claimed the lives of more than 214,000 Americans and infected more than 7.7m people.
The clip came from an interview Fauci gave to Fox News, in which he was describing the work that he and other members of the White House coronavirus task force undertook to respond to the virus, not Trump.
A majority of Americans do not approve of the president’s handling of the crisis, according to several recent polls. The Trump campaign said it would not stop running the adverts.
“These are Dr Fauci’s own words,” said Trump’s communication director Tim Murtaugh. “The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration.
“The words are accurate and directly from Dr Fauci’s mouth.”
For months during the course of the pandemic, Trump has often been at odds with Fauci, delivering contradictory public health messages and publicly expressing frustration with the doctor’s more sober take on the crisis.
In the spring, as the virus ravaged the north-east of the country, Fauci was a regular at the White House’s coronavirus press briefings. But in June, Fauci said he was no longer invited to the briefings, with Trump claiming to Fox News that Fauci was “a nice man, but he made a lot of mistakes”. Polls conducted in early summer found a majority of Americans trusted Fauci’s assessments of the pandemic, whereas less than a third trusted Trump’s.
As cases began to rise across many parts of the country, Trump encouraged states to quickly reopen their economies for the summer. Fauci at the time cautioned against reopening without appropriate social distancing measures in place, contradicting Trump’s messaging that states should not delay.
Fauci has largely remained a neutral, authoritative public health figure over the course of the pandemic, refusing to harshly criticise the administration’s approach, and opting to do dozens of virtual interviews to offer his recommendations to Americans. Trump has since replaced Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx, another respected public health expert who was once a regular at the White House press briefing, with Dr Scott Atlas, who is neither an epidemiologist nor an infectious disease expert.
Atlas, a regular on the Fox news network, has come under scrutiny by public health experts for questioning the effectiveness of masks and parroting the Trump administration’s optimistic timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine.