Former President Donald Trump on Monday attacked Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, his administration’s top coronavirus advisers, in a highly personal — and at times inaccurate — statement released after the two criticized the administration for its response to the pandemic.
“Based on their interviews, I felt it was time to speak up about Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned,” Trump said. “They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccine — putting millions of lives at risk.”
Trump’s statement amounted to a point-by-point rebuttal of comments from Fauci and Birx in a CNN documentary that aired Sunday, which featured former Trump health officials, some of whom were critical of the former president.
Fauci said the decision “to go all out and develop a vaccine” was “the best decision that I’ve ever made with regard to an intervention as director of the institute,” referring to his role at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The agency’s vaccine research center helped develop a key component of ultimately successful shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
But Fauci’s characterization drew Trump’s ire. In his statement on Monday, the ex-president called the vaccines authorized for emergency use “American vaccines,” even though the first vaccine to be authorized in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration was developed by the Turkish immigrants who founded BioNTech in Germany, and later collaborated with Pfizer to bring it to market. Pfizer, which manufactures the vaccine, did not receive development money from the government.
“Dr. Fauci was incapable of pressing the FDA to move it through faster. I was the one to get it done, and even the fake news media knows and reports this,” Trump said, even though Fauci, in his capacity as NIAID director, did not have the authority to pressure the FDA to make such decisions.
Fauci also told CNN that Trump’s social media use ran counter to what the administration’s response should have been. Birx also criticized the inconsistent messaging from the federal government as “fault number one.”
“The thing that hit me like a punch to the chest was then all of a sudden he got up and says, ‘Liberate Virginia, liberate Michigan,’ and I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on here?’” Fauci told CNN, referring to a series of Trump tweets. “It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do.”
In his statement, Trump labeled Fauci as “the king of ‘flip-flops’ and moving the goalposts to make himself look as good as possible,” while adding that he ignored the recommendations of both Fauci and Birx. Because the coronavirus was unknown to the world before late 2019, scientists and health officials fighting the pandemic frequently revised their advice as they have learned more about the virus and the disease it causes. And one official who worked inside the Trump White House said the former president’s criticisms were off the mark.
“Bit of revisionist history from the former president. We all had our issues with Fauci and his media marathons but very few people — including President Trump — had anything negative to say about Dr. Birx,” said the former White House official.
Birx told CNN that the Trump administration could have done more to prevent hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. So far, nearly 550,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.
“I look at it this way — the first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” she said. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
Trump criticized Birx for not following her own advice, citing a family trip she took the day after Thanksgiving, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was advising Americans not to travel over the holidays. Birx later announced that she would retire from her position.
In the past, Birx has said that she “always” thought of quitting the Trump administration over the hyperpartisan nature of the workplace.
“Dr. Birx was a terrible medical advisor, which is why I seldom followed her advice,” Trump said in his statement.
In the interview that aired Sunday, Birx also spoke about a phone call she received from Trump after speaking publicly on CNN in August about the spread of Covid-19.
“Everybody in the White House was upset with that interview and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic,” she said. “I got called by the president. It was very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear.”
Trump denied that there was a “very difficult” phone call, and criticized Birx for her policies, which he said “would have led us directly into a COVID caused depression.”
“Time has proven me correct,” he said. “I only kept Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx on because they worked for the U.S. government for so long — they are like a bad habit!”
Gabby Orr contributed to this report.