It’s been over half a week since Donald Trump left office, and things are already different. His successor, Joe Biden, was quick to repeal some of his more damaging (or simply absurd) acts, and he’s vowed to finally use federal powers to really combat the still-rampaging pandemic. Then there’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases, who repeatedly earned the previous president’s scorn for refusing to whitewash COVID-19’s destructive powers. He’s spent much of the last six months muzzled by Trump, but now that Trump is gone, he’s doing press again. And he has some chilling stories about his own nightmarish 2020.
Among the outlets Dr. Fauci spoke with was The New York Times, and they asked him about, among many other things, the death threats he received, by people unhappy that he trying to save their lives during a once-in-a-century pandemic. When asked if he was ever shot or confronted, Dr. Fauci said he wasn’t, but that he once received a letter sent to his home office. And when he opened it “a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest.” Thankfully, it was nothing. But it still left some scars:
That was very, very disturbing to me and my wife because it was in my office. So I just looked at it all over me and said, “What do I do?” The security detail was there, and they’re very experienced in that. They said, “Don’t move, stay in the room.” And they got the hazmat people. So they came, they sprayed me down and all that.
Did they test the powder?
Yeah. It was a benign nothing. But it was frightening. My wife and my children were more disturbed than I was. I looked at it somewhat fatalistically. It had to be one of three things: A hoax. Or anthrax, which meant I’d have to go on Cipro for a month. Or if it was ricin, I was dead, so bye-bye.
Dr. Fauci said he has no idea if Trump ever found out about the incident, and he never told him about it either, even though Trump spent many of his rallies railing against Dr. Fauci. Who was I going to tell? What good would it be to tell anyone? Also, it was under F.B.I. investigation, and they don’t like you to talk about it.
That said, Dr. Fauci was clearly furious about how, some decades into his career, he had become a target of violent people who’d been fed misinformation about the coronavirus. He said he started getting Secret Service protection as early as late March, mere weeks into when the pandemic went next level in the U.S. That they were endangering not only his life but his family’s life as well got him so mad that the normally unflappable Dr. Fauci even dropped a mild cuss word into an NYT interview:
It was the harassment of my wife, and particularly my children, that upset me more than anything else. They knew where my kids work, where they live. The threats would come directly to my children’s phones, directly to my children’s homes. How the hell did whoever these a*sholes were get that information? And there was chatter on the internet, people talking to each other, threatening, saying, “Hey, we got to get rid of this guy. What are we going to do about him? He’s hurting the president’s chances.” You know, that kind of right-wing craziness.
Elsewhere, Dr. Fauci talks about knowing early on into the pandemic that Trump was going to always downplay its severity. He took particularly umbrage with his obsession with questionable miracle cures, like the infamous hydroclorothiazide.
[I]t was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, “Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?” or, “Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.” And I would try to, you know, calmly explain that you find out if something works by doing an appropriate clinical trial; you get the information, you give it a peer review. And he’d say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this stuff really works.”
He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, “A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.” That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.
In another interview, with Ted Koppel for CBS News, Dr. Fauci said that, despite all this, he “got along very, very well with him, and that it was the more loyal members of his staff who were the ones who got into his face. Still, the relationship sounds surreal. Trump would curse him out in his rallies, threatening to fire him, whipping his supporters into chants of “Fire Fauci.” Trump would get mad that Dr. Fauci had consistently higher approval ratings than him. “And then,” Dr. Fauci told Koppel, “when I would see him in the Oval Office, he would act like everything was fine.”