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Fauci says he feels liberated to speak freely

NBC News logo NBC News 1/21/2021 Lauren Egan
Anthony S. Fauci standing in front of a screen © Provided by NBC News

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government’s top public health experts, signaled that he feels free to speak honestly about Covid-19 now that former President Donald Trump is out of office.

In his first news briefing since President Joe Biden was sworn in, Fauci said that the new administration was committed to being "completely transparent, open and honest," a sharp break from the Trump White House, when Fauci said he often felt there would be repercussions for speaking honestly about the pandemic.

"It was very clear that there were things said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really was uncomfortable because they were not based in scientific fact," Fauci told reporters, speaking about the Trump administration.

"The idea that you can get up and talk about what you know, what the evidence is, what the science is," Fauci continued, "it is somewhat of a liberating feeling."

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Fauci helped lead the nation's response to the coronavirus when the pandemic hit nearly a year ago, working alongside Trump and members of his White House coronavirus task force. But the relationship was rocky.

Trump was criticized for spreading false or misleading information about the pandemic, frequently contradicting warnings from Fauci and other experts that the situation was dire and needed to be taken seriously. He often refused to wear a mask and ultimately caught the virus himself.

Early on in the pandemic, Fauci often appeared alongside Trump in the briefing room as he used the platform to give long-winded news conferences aimed at touting his own record as president while he was on lockdown in Washington and unable to campaign in-person for his re-election.

Those news conference often put Fauci in a difficult position, as he attempted to delicately push back on Trump's inaccurate claims on live television.

There was frequent speculation that Trump would fire Fauci for contradicting him.

Fauci said that just 15 minutes before the news conference he had met with Biden and discussed how "everything we do will be based on science and evidence."

"One of the new things about this administration is that if you don't know the answer, don't guess. Just say you don't know the answer," Fauci said in response to a reporter's question on a matter he was unaware of.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said Fauci and other public health officials will make more regular appearances in the briefing room to discuss the coronavirus after the Trump administration largely declined to update the public in its final months.

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