President Donald Trump issued a rare rebuke of his senior adviser Peter Navarro on Wednesday, saying Mr Navarro should not have written a scathing opinion piece about Anthony Fauci, a top government coronavirus expert who is hugely popular.
Mr Navarro, a trade adviser who at times has expanded his reach within the Trump White House, launched an attack on Dr Fauci in an article for USA Today.
“Dr Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Mr Navarro wrote.
The initial lack of a pushback from the White House for the article fed a belief that Mr Navarro's article was supported at the top levels of the White House.
But departing for a trip to Atlanta, Mr Trump was asked whether Mr Navarro had gone rogue.
"Well he made a statement representing himself. He shouldn't be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony," Mr Trump said.
A White House official said Mr Trump did not endorse Mr Navarro's op-ed and that Mr Navarro was told "explicitly in recent days to de-escalate the situation".
The official said that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was "fully engaged" on the matter and that Mr Meadows thought Mr Navarro's article was "unacceptable".
Dr Fauci is a member of the government's coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence. The 79-year-old infectious diseases expert aided the search to treat the HIV disease in the 1980s and is a revered figure for not letting politics intrude on his judgment.
"We're all on the same team, including Dr Fauci," Mr Trump said. "We all want to get rid of this mess."
Tensions between Mr Trump and Dr Fauci have emerged at times with the president focused on getting Americans back to work and school, while Dr Fauci has urged caution to prevent the spread of infection.
Dr Fauci, in an interview with The Atlantic, said the White House's recent attacks had been a “major mistake on their part”.
"I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself," Dr Fauci said.
He said he had not spoken with Mr Trump “in a while”, but had been working with Mr Pence on the US struggle to gain control of the virus.
Dr Fauci on Wednesday called the White House effort to discredit him "bizarre" and urged an end to the divisiveness over the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying "let's stop this nonsense".
The recent spike in coronavirus infections in the US, primarily in states that were among the earliest to lift coronavirus restrictions, put Dr Fauci on a collision course with the White House.
"One of the things that's part of the problem is the dynamics of the divisiveness that is going on now that it becomes difficult to engage in a dialogue of honest evaluation of what's gone right and what's gone wrong," Dr Fauci told The Atlantic.
"We've got to own this, reset this and say OK, let's stop this nonsense and figure out how can we get our control over this now."
The White House over the weekend distributed a list of statements Dr Fauci made early in the pandemic that turned out to be wrong as understanding of the disease developed, according to media reports.
Mr Trump said this week he valued Dr Fauci's input but did not always agree with him.
"You know, it is a bit bizarre. I don't really fully understand it," Dr Fauci told The Atlantic.
He said he believed the people involved in releasing that list, which was misleading because it did not include the entirety of Dr Fauci's statements or other context, were really "taken aback by what a big mistake that was".