The White House campaign against Anthony Fauci takes a bizarre turn

Could Team Trump make its attack against the nation's most celebrated expert on infectious diseases even worse? Of course it could.
Image: Senate HELP Committee's update on COVID-19 and progress toward safely getting back to work and schools
Anthony Fauci speaks during a hearing in Washington on June 30, 2020.Al Drago / Pool via Reuters
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By Steve Benen

In a normal and healthy administration, White House officials would see Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a trusted source -- especially in the midst of a deadly viral outbreak. Donald Trump's administration, however, is neither normal nor healthy.

Last week, the president started taking rhetorical shots at his own country's leading infectious disease expert. That was soon followed by the White House compiling an opposition-research collection on Fauci and distributing it to major news organizations.

Also over the weekend, Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of staff for communications and a close confidant of the president's, promoted a cartoon mocking Fauci. (The New York Times noted that the artist responsible for the cartoon has published work that has been "criticized for its anti-Semitic imagery.")

Could Team Trump make this worse? Of course it could.

Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump‘s top trade adviser, blasted Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday, claiming that the nation’s top infectious disease expert and the public face of the White House‘s coronavirus response has been consistently wrong while advising on how to contain the disease. In a brief op-ed published in USA Today, Navarro said: “Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.“

It matters that Navarro, an economist who's responsible for helping steer the president's misguided trade agenda, has no credibility upon which to attack Fauci's epidemiological work. It also matters that Navarro's op-ed includes glaring errors.

Even more important is the apparent fact that we're reached the point in the public-health crisis in which the nation's most celebrated expert on infectious diseases is under fire from the White House for telling politically inconvenient truths, even as infection rates and fatality rates continue to climb.

But just when it seemed this couldn't possibly get weirder, a White House spokesperson published a tweet this morning arguing that Peter Navarro's op-ed "didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes" and should only be seen as reflecting the trade advisor's personal opinions.

If that's true -- and at this point, really, who knows? -- it suggests things inside Trump World are even more dysfunctional and chaotic than many feared. The idea that a prominent White House official would write an op-ed for a major national newspaper, and no one inside the White House complex would review it ahead of publication, is bonkers. But it's also the official line from Team Trump this morning.

Of course, if the line is true, should we assume that Peter Navarro will be fired today for ignoring the White House's clearance policy and falsely attacking Dr. Fauci?