The following is an extended transcript of Dr. Deborah Birx’s interview that aired Sunday, January 24, 2021 on CBSN and “Facing Forward”
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you were looking at all this data. Do you think when you were in the room and briefing, even if it was with other people, do you think President Trump appreciated the gravity of the health crisis you were describing?
DR. BIRX: I think the president appreciated the gravity in March. It took a while after I arrived in the White House to remove all of the ancillary data that was coming in. I mean, there was parallel data stream coming into the White House that were not transparently utilized. And I needed to stop that where people were—
MARGARET BRENNAN: You mean outside advisors?
DR. BIRX: Outside advisers, coming to inside advisors. And to this day, I mean, until the day I left, I am convinced there were parallel data streams because I—
MARGARET BRENNAN: Disinformation?
DR. BIRX: I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made. So, I know that someone- or someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president. I don’t know to this day who, but I know what I sent up and I know that what was in his hands was different from that. That worries me because at any moment- I’ve built my career on data transparency and accountability. It is very important to me that we all agree how the data is collected and how we use it- use it. We don’t cut it in pieces and say we’re only going to look at it in this six weeks because it makes us look better. Or we’re all going to look at it in these two weeks because we look better than Europe in these two weeks. You can’t do that. You have to use the entire database—
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who was doing that?
DR. BIRX: To this day I don’t know. I know now why watching some of the tapes that certainly Scott Atlas brought in parallel data streams. I don’t know who else was part of it, but I think when the record goes back and people see what I was writing on a daily basis that was sent up to White House leadership, that they will see that- that I was highly specific on what I was seeing and what needed to be done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the chief of staff is not saying, wait a second, this is our official coordinator listen to her and her only? Listen to you? No one was saying that?
DR. BIRX: No one said that to me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: To the president?
DR. BIRX: I- I don’t know if they were saying it to the president.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think the president was just distracted by the political implications and the campaign?
DR. BIRX: You know, I always wonder that, and, I mean, the worst possible time you can have a pandemic is in a presidential election year. I just want to be frank. There’s politics and there’s policies and there’s pandemics. But in an election year, everything takes on a different perspective. I think the White House personnel were very focused on this pandemic in March and April. I think once the country began to open and it was clear to me that they weren’t going to follow my really gated criteria that I had worked hard on. And the reason that gating criteria was so important to me is it combined the insights of Tom Frieden with Zeke Emanuel and Scott Gottlieb. I took- they had the three sentinel papers on how to open America safely—
MARGARET BRENNAN: How to open restaurants, how to let people dine indoors—
DR. BIRX: I combined all of that together for these great gating criteria. So in calculating everything with the slow reopening, I didn’t think anyone could get to Phase 3 until August. And you can see in the states that followed either that criteria or similar criteria, that’s how long it took them. And by then, we had the fall surge coming. I wanted to keep the summer quiet so that we could build capacity to get to what we all knew would be a much more difficult fall.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What were the biggest obstacles to you communicating that, though? I mean, were there COVID deniers in the White House?
DR. BIRX: There are people in the White House and I think people around this country, because I’ve had the privilege to meet them and listen to them and hear them, because I wanted to hear what people were saying. There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
DR. BIRX: I think because the information was confusing at the beginning. I think because we didn’t talk about the spectrum of disease, because everyone interpreted on what they knew. And so they saw people get COVID and be fine.