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Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump plans to make Anthony Fauci a top target at upcoming rallies, using increased attention to the Wuhan lab-leak theory as a weapon against an official long viewed as more trustworthy.

Why it matters: Trump and conservative media have made Fauci an improbable face of the opposition, trying to give him the cartoon-villain status once accorded to former Sen. Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or — in Trump’s case — Hillary Clinton.

Trump amped up his longtime Fauci rants yesterday in a statement calling for COVID reparations from China:

  • "The correspondence between Dr. Fauci and China speaks too loudly for anyone to ignore. China should pay Ten Trillion Dollars to America, and the World, for the death and destruction they have caused!"

What we’re hearing: Look for Trump to light into Fauci tomorrow during dinner remarks to North Carolina annual Republican convention, in Greenville — Trump’s second big speech, after CPAC, since leaving office.

  • Jason Miller, Trump’s senior adviser, told Axios the base has a "visceral" reaction to Fauci: "People see Anthony Fauci and they think of shuttered businesses, lost school."
Screenshot: Fox News

The big picture: Fox News' prime-time stars are amping up their Fauci rants based on new questions about COVID’s origins.

  • “[A]ll the smirking morons in the American news media changed their view completely overnight,” Tucker Carlson said last night, 24 hours after saying Fauci should be criminally investigated.
  • "LORD FAUCI EXPOSED," said one Tucker graphic. Another dubbed him "Lord Fauci, Patron Saint Of Wuhan."
  • Sean Hannity jumped the gun last night with a graphic calling new revelations "the FALL of FAUCI."

Reality check: The theory most experts still believe to be most likely is that the virus was transmitted from a bat to some other species of animal, then to humans. That’s what happened with plenty of other viruses.

  • But it hasn’t been proven. A cadre of experts — and now the Biden administration — are calling for a more thorough investigation into the possibility that the virus infected workers studying it at a Wuhan lab, who then infected others.

Fauci himself told the Financial Times (subscription) that China should release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses could provide vital clues into whether COVID resulted from a lab leak.

  • "I have always felt that the overwhelming likelihood — given the experience we have had with SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV, bird flu, the swine flu pandemic of 2009 — was that the virus jumped species," Fauci said. "But we need to keep on investigating until a possibility is proven."

Fauci dismissed the idea that the NIH might bear any responsibility for the pandemic, telling the FT: "Are you really saying that we are implicated because we gave a multibillion-dollar institution $120,000 a year for bat surveillance?"

What's next: Trump plans a pair of rallies just before July 4. Look for Trump to try to make Fauci a punching bag.

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Go deeper

Fauci interview: Reaching for a "home run" in AIDS research

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. /CDC, Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci is aiming to curb another epidemic: 40 years of HIV, a virus that has remained elusive to a vaccine.

Why it matters: About 1.2 million people in America are living with HIV, but Fauci tells Axios the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 may be achievable.

The long drive toward ending HIV/AIDS once and for all

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After watching the swift success story of COVID-19 vaccines, researchers and advocates are hopeful renewed funding and vaccine advances might finally lead to an end to the devastating 40-year-old AIDS epidemic.

The big picture: HIV is more difficult to target than the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 because the virus can mutate quickly and a vaccine would need to trigger a broadly neutralizing antibody response.

Exclusive data: Trump's traffic flop

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The blog from former President Trump — originally touted as his own social media 'platform' — generated engagement roughly on par with the top posts from mid-market local newspapers, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

Why it matters: Even with his considerable base of support, Trump was unable to defy the laws of social media physics by getting political followers to change their habits.