"I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that."
The country's top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci broke his silence on Wednesday about an effort within the White House to discredit him, calling the recent attacks "bizarre" in an interview with The Atlantic, and said he believed it was a "major mistake" that reflected poorly on the White House as the U.S. tries to contain the coronavirus.
"It is a bit bizarre. I don't really fully understand it. You know, I think that what happened with that list that came out, I think if you sit down and talk to the people who were involved in that, they are really, I think, taken aback by what a big mistake that was. And I think if you talk to reasonable people in the White House, they realize that was a major mistake on their part because it doesn't do anything but reflect poorly on them."
Fauci's comments came after USA Today published an extraordinary op-ed penned by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who wrote that Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on."
"I can't explain Peter Navarro, he's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there."
That followed days of tension between the White House and Fauci, who sits on the president's coronavirus task force.
Fauci has taken part in a series of online interviews this week, advocating for a more aggressive response to the virus.
"Let's stop this nonsense and figure out how can we get our control over this now. And looking forward, how can we make sure that next month we don't have another example of California, Texas, Florida and Arizona?"
Meanwhile, the White House has been accused of trying to undermine his authority. Trump himself re-tweeted a post this week from a supporter criticizing Fauci and another from a former game show host, who said the experts can't be trusted.
But before departing for a trip to Atlanta, Trump tried to distance himself from the most overt attack against Fauci: Navarro's scathing editorial.
"Well, he made a statement representing himself. He shouldn't be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony."
Later, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a photo of him with Fauci in what he described as a "productive meeting."
And Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that he had "total" confidence in Fauci.
REPORTER: "What's your level of confidence in Dr. Fauci at this point?"
When asked in an exclusive Reuters interview on Wednesday about how he copes with the attacks from the White House, Fauci told Reuters, "I don't let it bother me. What we're doing with vaccines, what we're doing with therapeutics, what we're doing with clinical trials is the real substance."
Fauci also predicted that the U.S. will meet its goal of a coronavirus vaccine by year's end, telling Reuters that while there are no guarantees, "I feel good about the projected timetable."