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Fauci jokes he was 'the skunk' at Trump's COVID-19 picnic

Former President Donald Trump first met Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, at a September 2019 photo op, the newly "liberated" Fauci told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday. Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit four months later, "he barely knew who I was," Fauci said. But once he started going to the White House "very, very frequently" to advise about the pandemic, things started going wrong between him and Trump almost immediately.

The first problem is that Trump would get ideas about the coronavirus and how to treat it from friends and acquaintances, and he would believe their evidence-free opinions, Fauci said. "It was always, 'A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.' That's when my anxiety started to escalate." Fauci said he felt obliged to speak the truth publicly after Trump said something false or misleading, and while he would get pushback from Trump's top aides for contradicting the president, Trump himself never confronted him or got angry.

Fauci said he never really believed Trump would try to fire him, and he never considered quitting. He explained why:

Someone's got to not be afraid to speak out the truth. They would try to play down real problems and have a little happy talk about how things are okay. And I would always say, "Wait a minute, hold it folks, this is serious business." So there was a joke — a friendly joke, you know — that I was the skunk at the picnic. ... I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic. Even if I wasn't very effective in changing everybody's minds, the idea that they knew that nonsense could not be spouted without my pushing back on it, I felt was important. [Dr. Anthony Fauci to The New York Times]

Read more about Fauci's experience working with Trump and his team during a once-in-a-century pandemic, including the serious death threats he and his family received, at The New York Times.