A defiant Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday lashed out at critics calling for his ouster, blasting their “preposterous” and “painfully ridiculous” attacks and defending his record as a leading official battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Such “attacks on me are, quite frankly, attacks on science,” Fauci said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. “People want to fire me or put me in jail for what I’ve done — namely, follow the science.”
Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, pulled few punches as he directly rebutted critics who have attacked his prior remarks on the origins of the virus and on wearing masks to prevent transmission, along with a raft of conspiracy theories.
“If you go through each and every one of them, you can explain and debunk it immediately,” Fauci said. “I mean, every single one.”
Fauci also flatly dismissed a conspiracy theory about him and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that has been pushed by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Zuckerberg emailed Fauci early on in the pandemic, inviting him to a Q&A video on the platform and outlining some ideas where the social media giant could work with the U.S. government on the Covid response. Blackburn claimed the emails between the two men showed that Fauci was trying to create a narrative “so that you would only know what they wanted you to know.”
Fauci has come under fire in recent days following the release of a trove of his emails obtained by BuzzFeed News and other news outlets through the Freedom of Information Act.
“I don’t want to be pejorative of a United States senator, but I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Fauci said after listening to the senator’s claims.
Fauci, the 80-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, maintained that his views on the origins of the coronavirus have not changed, even as the theory of a lab-leak pandemic has recently become more mainstream.
Saying that a natural-origin scenario is more likely “doesn’t mean there is a closed mind to it being a leak,” Fauci said, “even though many people feel, myself included, that still the most likely origin is a natural one.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” Fauci said.
“You want to keep an open mind. It’s a possibility. I believe it’s a highly unlikely possibility, and I believe that the most important one, that you look at what scientists feel, is very likely that it was a natural origin,” Fauci said.
He said he’s “very much in favor” of further investigation into Covid’s origins.
Fauci has been a target for criticism in mostly Republican circles for much of the pandemic, including by former President Donald Trump, who suggested he would have fired Fauci if he won re-election.
The release of more than 3,200 pages of his emails from the first half of 2020 has given rise to new waves of attacks from conservatives.
Fauci in Wednesday’s interview seemed at times to be exasperated by the torrent of criticism. “Lately everything I say gets taken out of context — not by you, but by others,” he told MSNBC’s Todd.
The points are “just painfully ridiculous,” he said. “I could go the next half an hour going through each and every point that they made.”
He spoke at length about why government recommendations on mask-wearing changed over time, noting that he is “picked as the villain” on the issue despite other officials sharing his views at the time.
At the beginning, Fauci said, there was believed to be a shortage of masks, there was little available evidence that masks worked outside of a hospital setting, and the asymptomatic spread of the virus was not fully known.
As those three factors changed, so too did the guidance, he said. “When those data change, when you get more information, it’s essential that you change your position because you have got to be guided by the science and the current data.”
“People want to fire me or put me in jail for what I’ve done — namely, follow the science,” he said.
“It’s preposterous, Chuck. Totally preposterous.”
Asked about the impact of the politically charged attacks on public health officials over the past year, Fauci said it’s “very dangerous.”
“A lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science, because all of the things that I have spoken about, consistently from the very beginning, have been fundamentally based on science,” he said.
“Sometimes those things were inconvenient truths for people, and there was pushback against me. So if you are trying to, you know, get at me as a public health official and a scientist, you are really attacking not only Anthony Fauci, you are attacking science,” he said. “And anybody that looks at what is going on clearly sees that.”