Fauci denied being ‘muzzled’ by Trump early in pandemic, emails show

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White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci had little patience for claims his messages in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were being restricted by the Trump administration, a tranche of newly public emails shows.

The more than 3,200 pages of emails, obtained by Buzzfeed News and covering a period between January and June of 2020, are dotted with messages to Fauci from public health experts and ordinary Americans alike asking a variation of the same question: “Have you been muzzled?”

That’s the subject line of a March 1, 2020, email to Fauci from a man named Thomas Murray, who describes himself as a “nuclear/aerospace engineer who subsequently obtained an MPH [Master of Public Health degree] at the University of Washington”.

“The news media is reporting that the White House has muzzled you. Is that true?” asked Murray, who further asked Fauci to “let me know if I should stay silent or become noisy.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attend a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
The report said Fauci, seen here with then-President Trump in April 2020, received emails from various different people asking him questions if he was forced to be withholding.
Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Please stay silent since I have not been muzzled,” Fauci responded. “I will be on multiple TV shows tomorrow and was on FOX this AM. No one is censoring me.”

In response to a similar inquiry the same day from syndicated columnist Bob Franken, Fauci said: “I have never been given orders to get approval from the VP’s [Mike Pence] people to speak publicly about coronavirus. Ever since I have been doing this since the Reagan administration, whenever a member of the Executive Branch such as me gets invited and goes on National TV such as the Sunday Talk shows, there is always a routine process of clearing it with your department (in this case HHS) who then clears it with the White House. This is routine and has been true for the Reagan, Bush ’41, Clinton, Bush ’43, Obama, and now the Trump administration. That is merely a formality so that they know what is coming out from the executive branch … I have never been muzzled or told that I could not speak out publicly about anything during this administration.”

The following day, Fauci got a message from University of Pittsburgh immunology professor Mark Jay Shlomchik asking whether reports that the White House had blocked Fauci from speaking publicly about the virus without approval was true.

“If it is, I think that — in the interests of public health and the integrity of science in the US — you must not acquiesce but instead resign and speak out,” Shlomchik wrote. “If it is not true, then please refute it and set the record straight.”

Fauci continually defended his actions and words in the emails.
Dr. Anthony Fauci continually defended his actions and words in the emails.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“The story is not true,” Fauci responded tersely. “I am not being muzzled or censored.”

Not completely mollified, Shlomchik urged Fauci to make the same statement publicly.

“Your personal integrity is at stake here in the community and the world, and is a proxy for the integrity of science and medicine,” he wrote at one point.

“I have been very explicit in stating publicly that I am not being muzzled or censored,” Fauci retorted. “I say exactly what I want to say based on scientific evidence. I have stated this on multiple TV programs over the past few days including at a major press conference with many, many reporters present including several TV cameras. I could not possibly be more public about this. No censor. No muzzle. Free to speak out.”

Fauci appeared to reach the end of his rope on March 8, when he was copied on an email from activist and Yale School of Public Health associate professor Gregg Gonsalves to members of the White House coronavirus task force.

“All we see is genuflection in word and deed from most of you to a White House that wants this all to magically go away,” Gonsalves wrote. “Yes, I know you’re all doing your best and behind the scenes our federal government is hard at work … But time is running out. We need vocally, unequivocal leadership now, that offers real guidance to communities about what to do, what might happen next … The status quo is untenable. It’s going to get people killed by this virus.”

“I am surprised that you included me in your note,” Fauci fired back. “I genuflect to no one but science and always, always speak my mind when it comes to public health. I have consistently corrected misstatements by others and will continue to do so.”

“Tony, that part of the message was not directed at you,” responded an apparently chastened Gonsalves, who added that “[then-CDC Director Robert] Redfield and [then-Health and Human Services] Secretary [Alex] Azar haven’t been as forthright as you have … Most of the career civil servants on the email were copied not to chastise, it’s the political appointees that most think got us into this mess.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, stands as U.S. President Donald Trump exits during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
Dr. Fauci, seen here with then-President Trump in March 2020, plays a key role in the Biden administration’s pandemic response.
Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The relationship between Trump and Fauci was a constant source of speculation among the mainstream media early in the pandemic, when the White House task force held daily press briefings. By the time the 2020 presidential election rolled around, Trump was teasing the possibility that he’d dismiss Fauci if he got re-elected.

Since President Biden took office, Fauci has defended the new administration’s statements on the pandemic, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ claim that they had to “start from scratch” on vaccine distribution. In March, Fauci criticized Trump for tweeting in April 2020 that states should be “liberated” from lockdowns, saying the statement “hit me like a punch to the chest.” Trump fired back by calling Fauci and another coronavirus task force member, Dr. Deborah Birx, “self-promoters.”

The former president continued to jab Fauci in an interview with Newsmax last week.

“I always got along with [him] pretty well,” Trump recalled, “but I usually did the opposite of what he wanted.”



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