US top government scientist Anthony Fauci has criticized President Donald Trump's reelection campaign after it aired an edited ad which showed him praising Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Fauci said the clip was edited to make him seem to endorse the president's response to the pandemic.
"In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate," the leading member of the White House task force said in a statement.
"The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials," the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases added.
The 30-second campaign ad cites Trump's effort to recover from the coronavirus personally, as well as his administration's work to address the pandemic -- "President Trump is recovering from the coronavirus, and so is America," it says -- before including a brief clip in which Fauci appears to praise the president's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I can't imagine that anybody could be doing more," Fauci is shown as saying, creating a clear impression he is referring to Trump.
But, a complete clip of Fauci's comments, made during an interview in March with Fox News, shows the doctor saying: "I have been devoting almost full time on this. I'm down at the White House virtually every day with the task force. It's every single day. So, I can't imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more."
Trump, however, rejected Fauci's criticism and defended his controversial handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
"They are indeed Dr. Fauci's own words. We have done a 'phenomenal' job, according to certain governors," the president wrote in a tweet.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh also defended the ad on Sunday, saying the words from Fauci "are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.
"As Dr. Fauci recently testified in the Senate, President Trump took the virus seriously from the beginning, acted quickly, and saved lives,” Murtaugh's statement added.
ABC News said on Sunday it had asked the White House to allow Fauci to appear on "The Week," but the administration refused to make him or other members of the task force available.
Fauci and Trump have not always agreed on how to handle the pandemic, with Fauci frequently clarifying or correcting the Trump's incautious assertions about COVID-19 or the treatments and vaccines being developed.
Trump has urged Americans not to fear COVID-19, which has killed more than 214,000 people and infected nearly 7.7 million in the United States.
US opinion polls show most American voters disapprove of the president's handling of the crisis.