For a year, the nation's chief infectious disease expert was forced to play political games with the 45th president. It was a public tug-of-war, with Dr. Anthony Fauci and science on one side and former President Donald Trump on the other, backed by his cronies.
In addition to steering a presidential administration that was largely anti-fact and anti-science, Trump was pretty anti-coronavirus as well — not in the sense that he wanted to take executive action to stop the spread of the virus, which has now killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S., but that he refused to discuss the real consequences of the virus and the realities of what was happening in America.
But now that President Biden has been sworn in, Fauci is free to speak his mind — and he offered The New York Times an hour-long interview over the weekend about what he really thought of working in collaboration with the Trump White House. Here are the juiciest bits.
On telling the truth — and contradicting Trump
"It isn’t like I took any pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States. I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I made a decision that I just had to. Otherwise I would be compromising my own integrity, and be giving a false message to the world. If I didn’t speak up, it would be almost tacit approval that what he was saying was okay."
On harassment and threats due to "right-wing craziness"
"It was the harassment of my wife, and particularly my children, that upset me more than anything else. They knew where my kids work, where they live. The threats would come directly to my children’s phones, directly to my children’s homes. How the hell did whoever these assholes were get that information? And there was chatter on the internet, people talking to each other, threatening, saying, "Hey, we got to get rid of this guy. What are we going to do about him? He’s hurting the president’s chances." You know, that kind of right-wing craziness."
On death threats and an envelope filled with white powder
"No, but one day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest."
On weighing the risks of staying on versus resigning his role
"I felt that if I stepped down, that would leave a void. 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."
On whether Trump is to blame for 400,000 U.S. deaths
"I can’t comment on that. People always ask that and … making the direct connection that way, it becomes very damning. I just want to stay away from that. Sorry."