WASHINGTON — After several days spent weathering attacks from White House officials, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci hit back on Wednesday, calling recent efforts to discredit him “bizarre” and a hindrance to the government’s ability to communicate information about the coronavirus pandemic.

“I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview with The Atlantic published on Wednesday, speaking of recent attempts by President Trump’s aides to undermine him. “I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them.”

It was the latest salvo in a war that has broken out in the middle of a pandemic between the government’s top infectious disease expert and a White House that has never evolved beyond the bare-knuckle tactics of the 2016 campaign.

On Wednesday, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s top trade adviser, published a brazen op-ed article in USA Today describing Dr. Fauci as “wrong about everything.” Over the weekend, another of Mr. Trump’s top advisers shared a mocking cartoon that portrayed Dr. Fauci as a leaky faucet. Other White House officials have targeted Dr. Fauci by distributing opposition research-style documents to reporters that detail what they say are his mistakes.

All the while, White House officials — including the president and the press secretary — assert in the face of the evidence that there is no concerted effort to attack Dr. Fauci.

“We’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday as he left the White House for Atlanta. When he was asked about Mr. Navarro’s choice to go around White House channels to publish the op-ed article in USA Today, the president added that Mr. Navarro “shouldn’t be doing that.”

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One that he had not read the piece, but criticized Mr. Navarro’s decision to publish it without allowing other officials to vet the content.

“Peter Navarro’s statement or op-ed or whatever you want to classify it as was an independent action that was a violation of well-established protocols that was not supported overtly or covertly by anybody in the West Wing,” Mr. Meadows said. “I think Peter Navarro spoke for himself.”

Dr. Fauci, 79, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post he has held since 1984, is no stranger to criticism. He oversaw much of the government’s response to the AIDS epidemic, weathering criticism from activists like Larry Kramer, who called him a “murderer” and an “incompetent idiot.”

Mr. Trump’s administration presents a different challenge. Because Dr. Fauci is a career civil servant, his job is not in jeopardy, and it is unlikely that Mr. Trump can completely exile him, given his emergence as the government’s most credible voice on the pandemic. He has not briefed Mr. Trump in weeks, preferring to work with Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who helps coordinate the administration’s coronavirus response, or to send his messages through Vice President Mike Pence.

Without directly criticizing the president — both men have emphasized their personal fondness for each other — Dr. Fauci has begun fighting back.

On Monday, he met with Mr. Meadows to discuss his ability to speak about the virus on television — his broadcast appearances have been sharply curbed in recent weeks by Mr. Meadows and members of the communications staff. And in The Atlantic interview, Dr. Fauci complained that the administration’s actions had made it difficult for health officials to communicate accurate information.

“It distracts from what I hope would be the common effort of getting this thing under control, rather than this back-and-forth distraction, which just doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Fauci said. “We’ve got to almost reset this and say, ‘OK, let’s stop this nonsense.’ We’ve got to figure out, how can we get our control over this now, and, looking forward, how can we make sure that next month, we don’t have another example of California, Texas, Florida and Arizona?”

ImageA coronavirus testing site on Wednesday in Sacramento. California and Texas each recorded more than 10,000 new cases on Tuesday.
A coronavirus testing site on Wednesday in Sacramento. California and Texas each recorded more than 10,000 new cases on Tuesday.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

He added, “So rather than these games people are playing, let’s focus on that.”

In the interview, Dr. Fauci discussed the op-ed article by Mr. Navarro, which had the stark headline, “Anthony Fauci Has Been Wrong About Everything I Have Interacted With Him On.” In the piece, Mr. Navarro presented what White House officials have been saying privately about Dr. Fauci, and what Mr. Trump has said publicly: They like Dr. Fauci personally, but he has made mistakes.

Dr. Fauci responded with bewilderment. “I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” he said. “He’s in a world by himself.”

The White House sought to distance itself from the attack by Mr. Navarro, but so far has not attacked the substance of his piece. And officials declined to comment when one of the president’s closest advisers, Dan Scavino, posted a mocking cartoon of Dr. Fauci to social media.

Tension between Mr. Navarro and Dr. Fauci has been brewing since the early days of the pandemic this year. In a coronavirus task force meeting that Mr. Navarro asked to attend, the two argued over the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that Mr. Trump has promoted as a cure for the virus.

Mr. Navarro, an economist by training, has since defended his credentials when it comes to sparring with Dr. Fauci over possible medical treatments.

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Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s top trade adviser, published a brazen op-ed article in USA Today describing Dr. Fauci as “wrong about everything.”Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist,” Mr. Navarro told CNN’s John Berman in April. “I have a Ph.D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”

Mr. Navarro is known to go around official channels to make sure his opinions are aired. In his op-ed article, he wrote that “I confronted him with scientific studies providing evidence of safety and efficacy,” and he promoted a new study that he said showed a 50 percent reduction in the mortality rate when the medicine was used. Medical experts have criticized that study, published by the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, as incomplete.

Mr. Navarro also wrote that he had warned officials in late January of the threat posed by the coronavirus, while Dr. Fauci had “fought against the president’s courageous decision” to close American borders to travelers from China.

It is true that a memo that Mr. Navarro wrote outlining the threat of the virus was the earliest high-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing during the early days of the administration’s response. It is also true that Dr. Fauci was initially skeptical of closing the country’s borders, over concerns such an action could limit the movements of doctors and other health professionals trying to contain the disease. But by the end of January, Dr. Fauci and other public health experts were on board with the decision.

Despite the continuing attacks by administration advisers and the attempts to limit his television appearances, Dr. Fauci has not stopped other public appearances. On Tuesday, he urged Georgetown University students to trust public health experts over politicians, without criticizing the administration he works for directly.

“You can trust respected medical authorities. I believe I’m one of them. So, I think you can trust me,” Dr. Fauci said. “I would stick with respected medical authorities who have a track record of telling the truth, who have a track record of giving information and policy and recommendations based on scientific evidence and good data.”

He added, “Don’t get involved in any of the political nonsense,” calling it a “waste of time.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

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