Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success.” His forthcoming book, “The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton” is out later this month. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Since 1984, scientist and physician Anthony Fauci has led America’s response to infectious disease, saving countless lives and gaining the world’s gratitude as he advised five prior presidents. Now, as America’s coronavirus pandemic death toll passes 135,000, a sixth president needs Dr. Fauci and his expertise. Instead, aides to President Donald Trump are trashing Fauci, apparently setting him up for bureaucratic assassination.
In another time, press reports on the plot against Fauci would spark incredulity. Who would order officials to talk smack about America’s top germ-fighter when we need him most? On this day, as the Washington Post reports that its count of Trump’s false and misleading statement passed the 20,000 mark, the logical answer is: The President, of course.
As anyone who watched Trump closely understands, he has a habit of attacking those who have tried to serve ethically in tough federal jobs or setting them up to be blamed at an opportune moment. He has done it to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Chief of Staff John Kelly and others. In every case the Trump’s goal seems to be to avoid responsibility and explain away a failure.
The campaign against Fauci is following the Sessions model. Sessions, you will recall, tried to deal with the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, which benefited Trump, in a straightforward way by recusing himself from the inquiry. This caused the President to criticize him openly, and repeatedly, until eventually firing him.
Like Sessions, Fauci has tried to do his job as a scientist, elevating his discipline above his self-interest. The trouble here is that when science has contradicted the President, Fauci has kept faith with science. Whether it’s testing, over-hyped treatments, or the country’s response to the pandemic to date, he hasn’t been afraid to speak truth to power.
Having chosen a life-saving mission over the President’s happy talk, Fauci has found himself marginalized. No longer a regular presence when the administration briefs the press, he said he hasn’t briefed the president in two months. Last Friday, Trump seemed to signal a campaign to discredit Fauci when he told Fox News talk host Sean Hannity, “Dr. Fauci’s a nice man but he’s made a lot of mistakes.”