The 79-minute sit-down interview was Birx’s first since formally exiting her role advising the Trump administration. Birx told host Margaret Brennan that she “always” considered quitting her job, for which she alternately drew criticism from other scientists and Trump.
She said she will probably retire from her job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within weeks after helping the Biden administration with its transition.
Birx, a well-regarded HIV researcher, was selected by Vice President Mike Pence last February to serve as his “right arm” leading the administration’s chaotic response to the pandemic.
But even after she arrived at the White House and briefed Trump on the growing threat to the country, Birx said he continued receiving — and passing on — “a parallel data stream coming into the White House that were not transparently utilized.”
“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” she said.
Birx added that she believed at least some of the data had been funneled along by Scott Atlas, a former White House coronavirus adviser who was widely rebuked for playing down the pandemic despite having no infectious-disease or public health background.
In an email to The Washington Post early Monday, Atlas said that any data he passed on to Trump was “directly from the CDC, [Department of Health and Human Services] and ongoing scientific literature” and maintained that listening to “additional scientists outside the administration” is “the way to arrive at the best policies.”
The New York Times on Sunday published an interview with Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, in which he noted that he and his family began facing harassment and death threats as early as March.
“One day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest,” he recalled. “That was very, very disturbing.”
While a security detail sprayed down Fauci’s office to get rid of the powder, which ended up being a “benign nothing,” the 80-year-old seemed to suggest that whatever was inside could have easily killed him.
“If it was ricin, I was dead, so bye-bye,” he said. (On several occasions, envelopes containing that lethal powder were intercepted before reaching the White House or other government officials.)
As the pandemic shut down the country last March, Fauci and Birx rapidly became the faces of the government response, appearing in daily news conferences alongside Trump, Pence and other top officials. While Birx put her support behind the administration and for a time received praise from Trump, the president criticized Fauci from the get-go for contradicting his efforts to play down a growing death toll.
Fauci, in his interview with the Times, noted that while he remained in his day job leading the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “Birx had to live with this person in the White House every day. So it was much more of a painful situation for her.”
He faced repeated criticism from the president for going against the White House’s efforts to tamp down the virus, noting that Trump sometimes called him to “express disappointment” about these conflicts. Despite the pressure, he said he never thought about quitting his post.
“I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t very effective in changing everybody’s minds, the idea that they knew that nonsense could not be spouted without my pushing back on it, I felt was important.”
Birx expressed more hesitations about her tenure, telling Brennan that she wishes she had been “more outspoken publicly” on matters such as coronavirus testing.
“I always feel like I could have done more. … I didn’t know all the consequences of all of these issues,” she said.
After the Associated Press reported last month that she had traveled to her Delaware vacation home over Thanksgiving, flouting public health warnings against such trips, she announced she would retire from her position at the CDC.
Well before that, however, she had anticipated that her role at the White House would be the final chapter of her career in the federal government.
“You can’t go into something that’s that polarized and not believe you won’t be tainted by that experience,” she said.
Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.