This is not a good week for Washington’s ruling class, especially its media-appointed patron saint of pandemics, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
If an organization such as the conservative-leaning Judicial Watch had requested and published Fauci’s treasure trove of 3,200 emails, the media would have ignored it. But it was the reliably left-leaning Buzzfeed, which did their loyal Democrat best to spin it as positively as they could for Fauci. Joining them were two equally sycophantic outlets, CNN and MSNBC.
But Heritage Foundation and a host of other organizations, journalists, and media outlets - who read the emails - have a decidedly different and more informed take. Unlike Buzzfeed, they didn’t focus on fanboy emails from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. From Heritage’s Daily Signal:
More than 3,000 pages of emails last year from Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s most famous health official, are now public and prompting calls for a congressional investigation or even his ouster.
The emails from the first half of 2020 reveal Fauci’s skepticism early on about masks to ward off COVID-19, his dismissal of the notion that the new coronavirus escaped a lab in China, and his vague reference to researching how to make the virus deadlier.
He also received complimentary messages from a Chinese scientist, the emails show.
The Daily Signal outlines 11 key takeaways that are worth your time. Top among them is the congressional response, at least among Republicans, for a full congressional investigation if not his firing (Sen. Rand Paul chief among them).
But as a former political operative, my speculation turns not towards the media spin but what Democratic political operatives in Congress and the White House must be thinking. This is turning into a disaster on several fronts.
First, let’s establish that Fauci’s initial moments during the early, tumultuous days of the pandemic were reassuring to many Americans. He assured us that there was no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus. He said the Centers for Disease Control and the communist Chinese were on top of things. He told us masks weren’t necessary as late as May 2020. The “15 days to slow the spread” lockdown strategy - which turned into most of a year, if not longer, in some states - was essentially his recommendation to President Trump.
On Day One of the Biden Regency, Fauci was named the White House’s chief medical officer. He retained his job as the director for the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where he’s worked for some 50 years. Meanwhile, he found time to write a book. Talk about bad timing on two fronts - writing and then the timing to publish it.
Usually, controversy helps sell books. When it results in a book being pulled from pre-sales, that’s a problem.
For any political operative, Dr. Fauci has become a political (if not legal) liability. It’s an excellent time to revisit strategies for minimizing or mitigating the damage before it gets worse. And it will. New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, if not lawsuits for additional emails and documents, will undoubtedly arrive soon, if not already.
It’s not an easy call. The first “rule” that comes to mind for such situations is the “rule of holes.” When you find yourself in one, stop digging. But it is not that simple.
Another rule attributed to legendary Clinton fixer, Lanny Davis, has three components. Tell it all, tell it early, and tell it yourself. Except given the legal liabilities - you know, like lying to Congress, a federal crime - government lawyers will discourage that.
So, the White House has a big mess on its hands. Confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic is now undermined. And the narrative that all-things-COVID was Trump’s fault, heard endlessly throughout 2020, is now crumbling.
Fauci and Biden need an exit strategy. But Fauci’s “retirement” won’t be enough. He will remain front and center for any congressional or legal investigations or inquiries.
There’s only one ultimate answer that immediately comes to mind.
A presidential pardon.
A pardon would come with short-term political damage to the White House, which will be accused of a cover-up and maybe worse. What good will still exists among Washington’s elite, its sycophants in the media, and its loyal leftist followers may still be retained. And the president’s pardon powers are plenary, as Democrats constantly reminded us during the Trump administration.
It can be spun a few ways. Fauci would need to retire, but Biden (if he’s capable) could pardon him quickly to spare the nation from a political witch hunt and public persecution of “a dedicated public servant who expertly guided us through our darkest days.” Fauci might “reluctantly” accept it, but he is undoubtedly not interested in the legal and public relations expenses he’d need to incur to clear his name (if he could). And with a full pardon, the pressure to investigate Fauci would probably diminish, at least in the media. The Fauci-fawning media would then target Republicans for being mean to Fauci and denigrating his work on AIDS (an appeal to the gay community). After all, this is really about Trump.
Fauci will be spun as the victim. It’s in the playbook.
Many observers will immediately dismiss this political solution. Way too early, they’ll say, plus where’s the evidence that Fauci broke any laws (umm, false statements to Congress?). Of course, spinmeisters will figure out a way to finesse those accusations.
But it is clear, at a minimum, that Fauci’s career (he is 80 years old, after all) is coming to an ignominious end of his own making. No one likes hearing bus tires going “thump thump” as they roll over your career. He won’t be fired, but he will be quietly advised to retire and quickly. Then the pardon, cloaked in victimhood and anti-Trumpism, will soon follow. Then, the hunt for new headlines to put this mess as far back in the rearview mirror as possible.
Maybe Fauci can then publish his book (he may need to add a new chapter or two). And maybe learn to throw a baseball.