WASHINGTON — With U.S. virus cases spik­ing and the death toll mount­ing, the White House is work­ing to un­der­cut its most trusted coro­n­avirus ex­pert, play­ing down the dan­ger as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pushes to get the econ­omy mov­ing be­fore he faces vot­ers in Novem­ber.

The U.S. has be­come a cau­tion­ary tale across the globe, with once-fall­ing cases now spi­ral­ing. How­ever, Trump sug­gests the sever­ity of the pan­demic that has killed more than 135,000 Amer­i­cans is be­ing over­stated by crit­ics to dam­age his re­elec­tion chances.

Trump on Mon­day retweeted a post by Chuck Wool­ery, once the host of TV’s “Love Con­nec­tion,” claim­ing that “Ev­ery­one is ly­ing” about COVID-19 — not just the me­dia and Democrats but most doc­tors “that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the elec­tion and keep­ing the econ­omy from com­ing back, which is about the elec­tion,” Trump quoted the for­mer game-show host.

At the same time, the pres­i­dent and top White House aides are ramp­ing up at­tacks against Dr. An­thony Fauci, the na­tion’s top in­fec­tious dis­eases ex­pert. Fauci has been in­creas­ingly side­lined by the White House as he sounds alarms about the virus.

“I have a very good re­la­tion­ship with Dr. Fauci,” Trump told re­porters Mon­day, call­ing him “a very nice person.” But the pres­i­dent added: “I don’t al­ways agree with him.”

Last week, Fauci con­tra­dicted Trump about the sever­ity of the virus dur­ing a FiveThir­tyEight pod­cast. While Trump con­tends re­peat­edly that he has done a great job against the pan­demic, Fauci said, “As a coun­try, when you com­pare us to other coun­tries, I don’t think you can say we’re do­ing great. I mean, we’re just not.”

Trump later said Fauci had “made a lot of mis­takes.” He pointed to Fauci’s early dis­agree­ment with him over the China travel ban and to the evolv­ing guid­ance over the use of masks as sci­en­tists’ un­der­stand­ing of the virus im­proved — points the White House ex­panded on in state­ments to me­dia out­lets over the week­end.

Asked whether the pres­i­dent still had con­fi­dence in Fauci, a White House of­fi­cial on Mon­day in­sisted Trump did. He said that Fauci, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Al­lergy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases, was re­garded as “a val­ued voice” on the White House coro­n­avirus task force. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity even though the pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly railed against anony­mous sources.

But that sup­port­ive message was not echoed by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade ad­viser who has been work­ing on the coro­n­avirus ef­fort.

In an email, Navarro con­tin­ued to crit­i­cize Fauci to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Mon­day, say­ing the doc­tor has “a good bed­side man­ner with the pub­lic but he has been wrong about every­thing I have ever in­ter­acted with him on.” That in­cludes, he said, down­play­ing the early risk of the virus and ex­press­ing skep­ti­cism over the use of hy­drox­y­chloro­quine, which Navarro has ag­gres­sively cham­pi­oned de­spite con­tra­dic­tory ev­i­dence on its ef­fi­cacy and safety.

Fauci’s pub­lic con­tra­dic­tions of Trump have been viewed by the pres­i­dent as a per­sonal af­front and have caused some in the West Wing to sour on the doc­tor, of­fi­cials say. How­ever, one se­nior White House aide in­sisted frus­tra­tion with him was di­rected more at out­siders, in­clud­ing some in the me­dia “who el­e­vate Fauci” and fault the White House for not show­ing more def­er­ence.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump watches as Dr. An­thony Fauci speaks about the coro­n­avirus on April 22.

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