WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said Thursday he feels safe despite reports he’s received online threats and has had uncomfortable personal encounters with admirers that prompted the Trump administration to assign him a security detail.
Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force who appears almost daily on televised briefings and news shows, says there are things about his job that are “sometimes disturbing.”
But Fauci, a plain-speaking expert on the coronavirus who hasn’t shied away from publicly correcting President Donald Trump’s erroneous statements about the virus, told NBC’s “Today” that he just focuses on the job he has chosen and puts “all of that stuff aside.”
The Department of Health and Human Services requested the U.S. Marshals Service authorize special agents from the HHS inspector general’s office as part of Fauci’s security detail, according to a person familiar with the arrangements, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement. The Justice Department approved the request to deputize nine agents, the person said.
The Washington Post first reported Fauci’s enhanced security. It said that Alex Azar, HHS secretary, grew concerned about Fauci’s safety as his profile has risen. Fauci is said to have received threats online and been approached by admirers.
Fauci’s high-profile role in leading the response to the coronavirus quickly made him a target for some Trump supporters who accused him of trying to undermine the president.
Some have accused him of playing up the threat of COVID-19, while others have pointed to emails in which he praised Hillary Clinton. Still others have dismissed him as a “deep state” operative because of his 36-year leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Anti-vaccine groups have blasted Fauci’s long support for immunizations and accused him of talking up the value of a coronavirus vaccine to enrich pharmaceutical companies.
Asked Thursday if he felt safe, the 79-year-old Fauci told NBC, “You know, I do. … I’ve chosen this life and I mean I know what it is. There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing but you just focus on the job you have to do and just put all of that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it.”
Reporters asked Fauci about his security detail on Wednesday at the White House COVID-19 briefing. “Anything that has to do with security detail, I’d have to have you refer that question to the inspector general of HHS,” he said.
Trump then said Fauci doesn’t need security. “Everybody loves him. Besides, they’d be in big trouble if they ever attacked,” Trump said.
Associated Press writer David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island contributed to this report.
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