Updated at 6:12 p.m. ET
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said recent White House attacks on his record are backfiring, calling the episode "bizarre" in interviews with The Atlantic.
The magazine published Fauci's comments after one of President Trump's senior advisers on trade and China, Peter Navarro, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he argued that Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on."
It was one of a series of salvos against the immunologist by the White House, which has struggled to explain why top aides appear to be at open war with a widely respected scientist whom an overwhelming majority of Americans say they trust more on the coronavirus than the president, or almost anyone else.
"I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that. I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them," Fauci told The Atlantic. "I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself."
Responding to Navarro's op-ed Wednesday, Trump said: "He made a statement representing himself. He shouldn't be doing that."
"I have a very good relationship with Anthony," Trump continued, "we're all on the same team."
In his op-ed Navarro, who has no medical training, ticked through a series of matters on which he disagreed with Fauci, including the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration have said the malaria drug is unlikely to be effective.
Navarro's list of issues was similar to one that The Washington Post reported it received from the White House to explain why Trump recently said Fauci "is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes." Trump has said he likes Fauci personally but disagrees with him on some things.
On Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that "it couldn't be further from the truth" that the White House was dropping opposition research on Fauci.
Two White House officials who declined to be named insisted Navarro "went rogue" and didn't clear his editorial with the White House communications team. On the record, Alyssa Farah, director of strategic communications, tweeted earlier Wednesday that the White House doesn't stand by Navarro's editorial, which represents "the opinion of Peter alone."
The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone. @realDonaldTrump values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration.— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) July 15, 2020
Asked on a Trump campaign press call about Navarro's attack on Fauci, Vice President Pence didn't directly address the op-ed but did offer his support for the infectious disease expert. "Dr. Tony Fauci is a valued member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force," Pence said, adding that the task force had just completed its latest meeting earlier Wednesday. "We couldn't be more grateful for his steady counsel as we continue to meet this moment with a whole of government approach, a whole of America approach."
Pence tweeted a photo of the task force meeting, which showed him sitting next to Fauci:
Productive meeting of the @WhiteHouse Coronavirus Task Force today. As we continue to put the health and well-being of the American people first, we are working closely with states to move forward, safely reopening our Nation and get Americans back to work. pic.twitter.com/WxsZwd8kiM— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) July 15, 2020
On Sunday night, Dan Scavino, assistant to the president and White House deputy chief of staff for communications, posted to his Facebook page an editorial cartoon lampooning Fauci. The cartoon portrayed Fauci as a sink faucet and implied that he was throwing cold water on the economy. "Sorry, Dr. Faucet! At least you know if I'm going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it's done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!" Scavino wrote.
As of Wednesday, the post was still up.