Dr Anthony Fauci says he is 'walking a tightrope' in his relationship with Donald Trump because 'people are trying to pit you against the president' as tension grows between the White House and its top virologist over the coronavirus outbreak.
Appearing on the cover of InStyle magazine, Fauci said in an interview that he was an 'apolitical person' but that the 'real and perceived built-up conflict' with Trump was making things 'very stressful'.
Trump last week said that Fauci had 'made a lot of mistakes' and White House officials have made critical briefings about him in the media, but the president played down tensions on Monday by insisting that their relations were 'very good'.
The virologist has described the efforts to discredit him as 'bizarre' and warned that 'ultimately, it hurts the president to do that'.
Fauci also repeated his warning that the US could reach a horrific figure of 100,000 new infections per day if cases continue to spiral out of control.
Dr Anthony Fauci (pictured) says he is 'walking a tightrope' in his relationship with Donald Trump because people are trying to 'pit' him against the president
Donald Trump (pictured yesterday) said last week that Fauci had 'made a lot of mistakes' and White House officials have made critical briefings about him in the media
Fauci says he has received harassment and death threats because of his high-profile role during the pandemic, in which he has often appeared at press briefings with Trump.
Asked in the InStyle interview how he was coping with the pressure, the 79-year-old diseases expert said: 'I don't like the conflict. I'm an apolitical person. I don't like to be pitted against the president.
'It's pretty tough walking a tightrope while trying to get your message out and people are trying to pit you against the president. It's very stressful.'
Fauci warned that 'we've got to pause in the opening' as cases surge, but said it would be 'very difficult' for Americans to accept another full-scale lockdown.
He said that whereas European countries had 'shut down about 90 to 95 percent of the country', the US had only closed down 50 per cent.
Faced with new outbreaks in the South and West, Fauci sounded the alarm last week and denounced the hasty end to lockdowns in several states.
'As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great,' he said last Thursday. 'We're just not.'
In the interview Fauci warned that daily infections could reach an unprecedented figure of 100,000 if 'we don't get good control over the current outbreak'.
However, Fauci predicted that the US could 'turn this around' by 'diligently' taking health precautions such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds.
Fauci appeared wearing sunglasses in a photoshoot for the magazine alongside his wife, bioethicist Dr Christine Grady.
He also said that he had no plans to leave public life despite his age and declared that 'right now, with all due modesty, I think I’m pretty effective'.
Trade adviser Peter Navarro (pictured) wrote an op-ed in USA Today claiming that Fauci 'has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on'
Fauci says he has received harassment and death threats because of his high-profile role during the pandemic, in which he has often appeared at press briefings with Trump
Trump said last week that 'Dr Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes', while an anonymous official briefed the Washington Post that White House officials were 'concerned about the number of times Dr Fauci has been wrong on things'.
The same official provided a list of Fauci's statements that they believed were incorrect.
Meanwhile, trade adviser Peter Navarro wrote an op-ed in USA Today claiming that Fauci 'has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on'.
The president weighed in to criticize Navarro, saying that 'he made a statement representing himself' and that 'he shouldn't be doing that'.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows did not approve the article and also criticized Navarro aboard Air Force One on Wednesday evening.
'Peter Navarro's statement or op-ed, whatever you want to classify it as, was an action that is a violation of well-established protocols that was not supported overtly or covertly by anyone in the West Wing,' Meadows told reporters.
Fauci described the efforts to discredit him as 'bizarre,' telling The Atlantic that 'ultimately, it hurts the president to do that.'
Trump had downplayed the tension with Fauci on Monday, saying:' I have a very good relationship with Dr Fauci. I find him to be a very nice person. I don't always agree with him.'
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also sought to minimize the tensions, saying Trump 'certainly' still values Fauci's opinion.
'Dr Fauci is one of many on the task force who provides advice,' McEnany said on Monday.
The White House has previously insisted that Trump will not fire Fauci, despite his April retweet of a Twitter post calling for exactly that.
Fauci has been increasingly vocal in his disagreements with the president's enthusiasm for reopening high-risk venues like schools and sporting arenas.
Trump cannot directly fire Fauci as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but could sideline him from the federal coronavirus task force.
Joe Biden's presidential campaign, which is leading in the polls ahead of November's election slammed Trump for his criticism of Fauci.
'The president's disgusting attempt to pass the buck by blaming the top infectious disease expert in the country - whose advice he repeatedly ignored and Joe Biden consistently implored him to take - is yet another horrible and revealing failure of leadership as the tragic death toll continues to needlessly grow,' campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Biden, 77, this week aired his first campaign ad in Texas, a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1976.
'If you're sick, if you're struggling... I will not abandon you,' Biden says over images of masked emergency responders.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham also warned against efforts to pin the blame for the crisis on Dr Fauci.
'We don't have a Dr Fauci problem,' stressed Graham. 'I think any effort to undermine him is not going to be productive.'
The US has reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases in recent days, with much of the surge coming from Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
Fauci said he expected deaths to rise along with hospitalizations in those regions, but because the infections are affecting younger people more than in previous surges, the death rate should remain below the earlier peak.
'We will likely see some more deaths as people get hospitalized, but I doubt that it's going to go up to the extent that we've seen before,' he said.
Johns Hopkins University figures show that the US has piled up 3,499,398 cases and 137,419 deaths at the time of writing, both by far the highest in the world.
Brazil is second in both tables with nearly two million cases and more than 75,000 deaths, while India is also approaching a million infections.
The United Kingdom has the third-highest death toll in the world, followed by Mexico which recently overtook early hotspot Italy.