In her first interview with former President Donald Trump in seven years, SiriusXM podcaster Megyn Kelly pinned him down on a number of subjects that were likely not comfortable for him to discuss.
One of them is former top immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who became the face of the COVID-19 pandemic during Trump’s administration.
During the interview, the former Fox News star mentioned Trump’s past remarks about why he did not fire Fauci as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at one point claiming, “I didn’t listen to him too much.”
Interjecting, Kelly noted that “not only did you not fire Fauci, who is loathed by many — millions of Republicans in particular, but also some Democrats — you made him a star.”
“This is the criticism of you, that you made him the face of the White House Coronavirus Task Force,” Kelly said. “That he was out at every presser, that he was running herd for the administration on COVID, and that you actually gave him a presidential commendation before you left office. Wouldn’t you like a do-over on that?”
At that, Trump said he didn’t give Fauci a commendation: “I wouldn’t have done it.”
But fact-checkers, including Kelly herself, begged to differ, posting screengrabs of an official White House presidential commendation dated Jan. 19, 2021, a day before Trump left office, for Fauci, Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and another COVID voice, Dr. Deborah Birx, among others.
“I overrode many of the things he did. He was much less important to me,” Trump said, per Mediaite. “Now, with that all being said, he’s been there for years. He was respected. He lost a lot of the respect because of COVID. But he was respected.”
For his part, Trump also reminded Kelly that ultimately, how states responded to the pandemic wasn’t up to him but rather to governors and legislatures.
“And on COVID, if you know what I did, I let the governors run their states, and many of the governors opened up their states. Some of them didn’t,” he added.
Kelly, who has not kept her disdain for Fauci a secret, pressed Trump further on why he didn’t let Fauci go.
“Wouldn’t you like to go back and try to clip his wings?” she asked. “This guy was pushing mask mandates on us. He wanted the most extreme measure at every turn.”
Here’s a partial transcript:
TRUMP: Okay, look, I’m not one that blames a system that if you’re civil service or if you have some other protection, that you can’t get fired because I’ve done things that are a lot worse than that.
KELLY: You’re big on the firing.
TRUMP: So, so yeah, I fired a lot of people. I fired Comey, and that was one of the great firings. I fired Comey, and then I fired a lot of other people in the FBI, and they were great firings because the deep state, and they were at work, and they were not good people. But I wasn’t, I was not a big fan of Fauci. If you look at Ron DeSanctimonious, he was, this guy said the greatest things. I can give you articles. That Fauci is great. He’s wonderful. We love him. We don’t do anything without Fauci. This went on for months.
KELLY: But he didn’t listen to Fauci.
TRUMP: He did a hundred percent. Look –
KELLY: He shut down Florida for a month.
TRUMP: I will give you, he shut down Florida –
KELLY: For a month.
TRUMP: Oh, he shut it down for a lot of longer.
Kelly then took Trump on over “Operation Warp Speed,” the initiative to rapidly develop a vaccine that some have insisted is still dangerous in many respects.