Dr. Fauci Disputes That He Once Said Trump's Attention Span Is 'a Minus Number'

"I don't recall that at all," Fauci said after he was quoted in a new book about the Trump White House

Fauci, Trump
Dr. Anthony Fauci (left) and President Donald Trump. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty; Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Donald Trump's relationship has been the subject of much fascination throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with the president alternately complimenting and criticizing his top infectious disease expert.

While Fauci praised the president publicly, newly-reported quotes in a book by journalist Bob Woodward suggest he has been more blunt in private, though Fauci disputes Woodward's account.

According to Woodward's book Rage, Fauci — a fixture of the White House coronavirus task force — privately said that Trump's leadership is "rudderless," his attention span is "like a minus number" and "his sole purpose is to get re-elected."

Fauci, 79, also implored both Trump and members of his administration to exercise caution when speaking to the media about the virus, Woodward writes.

According to his book, after a press conference in which Trump made false statements about COVID-19, Fauci said in an Oval Office meeting: "We can’t let the president be out there being vulnerable, saying something that’s going to come back and bite him."

The remarks, as described by Woodward, underline Trump's uneasy relationship with some of his health officials — a back-and-forth in which he agrees with them in one moment and contradicts them in another, given his frustration with how the pandemic has upended the country.

Trump's statements about coronavirus strategy, including infamously musing whether injecting disinfectant could be a treatment, are much scrutinized.

Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci (left) and President Donald Trump during the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on April 13, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

After Fauci's reported quotes were made public as copies of Woodward's book have circulated this week, he told Fox News that he did not recall making the remarks, which he suggested were hearsay.

“If you notice, it was ‘others’ who have said that. You should ask ‘others.’ I don’t recall that at all,” Fauci told Fox News correspondent John Roberts.

"I didn’t read the book, but according to what I saw in the newspapers, it says, ‘And others have said that.’ So, you know, I don’t really want to get involved in that kind of stuff," Fauci said. "That is very distracting to the kind of things that I’m trying to do, and that we’re all trying to do, with this outbreak."

For his new book, coming out next week, Woodward spoke 18 times with the president himself and other White House aides, including Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

(Fauci did not respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE; a White House spokesman declined further comment, as Trump slammed the book and the White House press secretary challenged parts of the reporting — some of which Woodward taped.)

On Fox News, Fauci also commented on Woodward's assertion that Trump, 74, had privately told him the novel coronavirus was much deadlier than the flu, despite publicly minimizing its risks.

"I didn't really see any discrepancies between what he told us and we told him and what he ultimately came out publicly and said," Fauci said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci
President Donald Trump (left) and Dr. Anthony Fauci during a coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 31. Win McNamee/Getty Images

In response to the recent reporting, the Trump administration has seized on past Fauci comments, with White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany telling reporters on Wednesday that he has called Trump's virus response "impressive."

“When you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things one, two, three, four times, and then it happens,” Fauci told Science magazine in March, talking about his advice to Trump officials to stop shaking hands with each other. “So, I’m going to keep pushing.”

“Even though we disagree on some things, he [Trump] listens,” Fauci said then. “He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

As the pandemic has unfolded in to the summer, Trump's tone on Fauci has boomeranged. He told Sean Hannity that the doctor, a longtime top health official under both Democrats and Republicans, had made "a lot of mistakes," at one point even retweeting a call to fire the doctor.

In July, White House aides circulated anti-Fauci talking points to reporters, a move which Fauci shrugged off.

"I just want to do my job. I’m really good at it. I think I can contribute," he told The Atlantic then. "And I’m going to keep doing it."

McEnany, the White House press secretary, insisted in July: "Dr. Fauci and the president have always had a very good working relationship."

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