The Biden administration defended its top coronavirus adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, on Thursday as the infectious disease expert’s private emails were revealed to the press.
“He’s been an undeniable asset in our country’s pandemic response,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “But it’s obviously not that advantageous for me to re-litigate the substance of emails from 17 months ago.”
Thousands of the doctor’s emails from the spring of 2020 were released this week through Freedom of Information requests by The Washington Post and Buzzfeed. Critics argue that some of those emails show an overly collaborative relationship between Dr Fauci and Chinese authorities, and that one message in particular – though it’s heavily redacted – shows he considered the Wuhan “lab leak” theory of Covid’s origins more seriously than he let on in public.
Ms Psaki said she was not aware of whether President Biden had been briefed on the emails. “The president and the administration feel that Dr Fauci has played an incredible role in getting the pandemic under control, being a voice to the public throughout the course of this pandemic, and again I would reiterate a lot of these emails are from 17 months ago or more, certainly predating this administration,” she said.
Dr Fauci has defended himself in light of the emails, which he says can easily be misunderstood. “The only trouble is they are really ripe to be taken out of context where someone can snip out a sentence in an email without showing the other emails and say, ‘based on an email from Dr Fauci, he said such-and-such,’ where you don’t really have the full context,” he told NewsNation.
With regard to the “lab leak” email, the doctor told CNN he still finds it unlikely that a Wuhan laboratory released the virus. “I don't remember what's in that redacted [email], but the idea I think is quite far-fetched that the Chinese deliberately engineered something so that they could kill themselves as well as other people,” he said. “I think that's a bit far out.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has unloaded on his former coronavirus adviser as he claimed that he made “the greatest bet in history” to order vaccines “before we even knew it even worked”, despite years of research on coronavirus vaccines predating the pandemic, and clinical trials underway before Mr Trump’s Operation Warp Speed was launched.
The former president also claimed that Dr Fauci did not emphasise the “speed of vaccine production” because he expressed some scepticism that a vaccine would be available within months, not years, after drugmakers being awarded billions of dollars to develop them.
He also repeated his false claim that Dr Fauci “was totally against masks” despite the former president spending months publicly downplaying their effectiveness, refusing to be photographed with one, and mocking his rival Joe Biden for wearing them as the public health crisis took thousands of American lives and infected millions of people in the US while he was in office.
Alex Woodward and David Taintor contributed to this report
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