The White House launched a coordinated campaign last weekend to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and it doesn't appear to have gone well. Key Trump allies in Congress quickly defended Fauci, and by Wednesday, when the White House wanted to be talking about unilaterally weakening environmental laws, it spent much of the day trying to disavow an op-ed in which Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro savaged Fauci.
White House officials, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, insisted Trump did not approve the op-ed, and Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a photo of himself sitting next to Fauci at at coronavirus task force meeting. Trump himself said "we're all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci," and Navarro "shouldn't be doing that." Fauci told The Atlantic he was baffled by the "bizarre" White House attacks on him, adding: "I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself."
"But there's little doubt that Navarro's broadside reflected — and appealed to — the president's own frustration with Fauci," the Los Angeles Times reports, quoting an administration official who said of Navarro's op-ed, "not only was he authorized by Trump, he was encouraged." Meadows pushed back, telling the Times that "President Trump did not approve Peter Navarro's op-ed" and "this anonymous source is providing false information" to "deceive your readers."
Meadows is genuinely unhappy with Navarro, White House officials told The Washington Post, especially since the White House had denied Navarro's request to publish the op-ed. At the same time, the Post notes, "Navarro's op-ed in some way echoed Trump's comments during a Fox News interview last week."
That the White House is attacking its own top infectious disease expert has already entered the zeitgeist. The Late Show and The Daily Show both created mock Fauci attack ads, and the anti-Trump Lincoln Project released an earnest ad Wednesday to pointedly remind voters that Fauci has been working to save America under six presidents.
"One White House official said the administration was attempting to de-escalate the situation with Fauci in the days ahead, a tacit admission that efforts to tarnish his credibility had backfired," the Post reports. "But both allies and critics of the Trump administration fear the White House's attempts to move on from ill-advised attacks against an epidemiologist during a pandemic could be upended with a presidential tweet."