Washington — President Trump on Wednesday chided White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for an op-ed he wrote condemning Dr. Anthony Fauci and claiming the leading infectious disease expert has been wrong on numerous occasions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“He made a statement representing himself,” Mr. Trump told reporters before departing the White House for Atlanta. “He shouldn’t be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony.”
The president added that “we’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci.”
Mr. Trump’s pushback of Navarro’s piece comes after the White House attempted to distance itself from the op-ed, which was published by USA Today on Tuesday evening.
“The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone,” White House director or strategic communications Alyssa Farah tweeted, adding that Mr. Trump “values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his administration.”
When asked about Navarro’s op-ed during an event in the Oval Office earlier Wednesday, Mr. Trump told reporters, “I get along very well with Dr. Facui.”
“That’s Peter Navarro, but I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci,” he reiterated.
Navarro criticized Fauci in his op-ed and claimed the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”
The op-ed is nearly identical to a statement Navarro shared with CBS News on Sunday, as top White House officials criticized Fauci’s blunt warnings on the coronavirus crisis amid efforts to sideline the respected infectious disease expert. It also mirrors some of the president’s own criticisms of Fauci.
The trade adviser goes on to list instances where he and Fauci diverged on how best to handle the coronavirus pandemic, including on the use of masks and the closing of U.S. borders to foreign nationals traveling from China, where the outbreak originated.
“When you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution,” Navarro wrote.
Last week, Fauci was told not to attend a press briefing with the White House coronavirus task force, of which he is a member, at the Department of Education. He did, however, appear at a subsequent task force briefing Friday.
In a series of interviews with The Atlantic published Wednesday, Fauci said any efforts by the White House to undermine him are “a bit bizarre.”
“When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president,” he said.
Fauci said the attempts are “only reflecting negatively on them.”
“I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” he told The Atlantic. “He’s in a world by himself. So I don’t even want to go there.”
Mr. Trump has vocalized his areas of disagreement with Fauci, including over the effectiveness of masks in combating the spread of the coronavirus and his travel restrictions. The president told Fox News host Sean Hannity last week Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.”
On Monday, the president said he finds Fauci to “be a very nice person” and has a “very good relationship” with him, but acknowledged they don’t always agree.
While the need for Americans to wear masks has been cited as one instance where Fauci’s views have shifted, other administration officials have offered conflicting guidance to the public about the use of masks or face coverings.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in March that “masks do not work for the general public,” but told “Face the Nation” in an interview Sunday that the Trump administration is now “trying to correct” its earlier recommendations on masks.
Adams, who wore a mask during the interview, repeatedly urged the American people to wear face covering to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Paula Reid contributed reporting.