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Trump splits with Fauci over coronavirus surge, says "we are in a good place"

Trump downplays severity of coronavirus outbreak
Trump downplays severity of coronavirus as cases spike across the U.S. 02:31

Washington — As coronavirus infections continue to spike in more than half of the states, President Trump said he believes the country is "in a good place" and will be in "very good shape" in the next few weeks, despite a warning from the nation's top infectious disease expert that the U.S. must confront the continuing pandemic immediately.

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren, chief national political analyst for Gray Television, set to air Sunday, Mr. Trump said he disagrees with an assessment from Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that the U.S. is still "knee deep" in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and must confront the "serious situation" immediately.

"I think we are in a good place," Mr. Trump told Van Susteren. "I disagree with him. You know, Dr. Fauci said 'don't wear masks,' and now he says 'wear them.' And you know, he's said numerous things, 'don't close off China. Don't ban China.' And I did it anyway. I sort of didn't listen to my experts and I banned China."

The president predicted that in the next two to four weeks, "I think we're going to be in very good shape."

The surge of coronavirus cases comes after many states began to lift restrictions on businesses and allowed stay-at-home orders to expire, with those that were among the first to reopen their economies, such as Texas and Florida, experiencing a spike in hospitalizations and people testing positive.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force met Wednesday at the Department of Education, but Fauci told CBS News's Paula Reid he was told to attend virtually from the White House. He was not present at a press briefing following the meeting.

Mr. Trump has attributed the rise in infections on increased testing, despite an increasing positivity rate in many states. He has shifted his focus to the economic recovery and a return to normalcy, including schools reopening in the fall. While his public appearances were severely scaled back in the spring, the president has resumed meetings with world leaders at the White House and returned to the campaign trail for events in Oklahoma and Arizona.

Mr. Trump is set to accept the Republican presidential nomination in Jacksonville, Florida, in late August, after initial plans for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, were upended by the coronavirus. But as Florida has become an epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., Mr. Trump told Van Susteren that the convention in its current form is not concrete.

"It really depends on the timing," he said. "Look, we're very flexible. We can do a lot of things, but we're flexible."

In addition to addressing the coronavirus pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on the country, Mr. Trump also addressed an operation involving a Russian military spy unit that allegedly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Reports about the Russian bounty intelligence, which the White House has insisted the president was not briefed on in-person due to questions about its veracity, has sparked criticism from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who are pressing the Trump administration for more information.

Mr. Trump slammed unidentified officials for leaking the intelligence, saying they are "not patriotic people" and "not good for our country." The president also told Van Susteren that the Justice Department is "looking into" the leak and called the Russian bounties a "hoax."

"I think it's a Democrat hoax because intelligence, good people in intelligence, said they did not think it rose to the level of bringing it to the president," he said. "Nobody brought it to me, but they said it didn't rise to that level and that's OK with me."

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