White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul traded barbs in a heated exchange at a Senate hearing Tuesday over whether the National Institutes of Health funded controversial research Paul claims could have contributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Paul grilled Fauci about an NIH funded study that he says qualifies as gain of function research, the process of altering a pathogen to make it more transmissible in order to better predict emerging diseases. Fauci denied in previous Senate testimony that the NIH has directly funded the research at a lab in Wuhan, China, that has come under intense scrutiny as a possible source of the virus.
Paul, R-Ky., asked Fauci if he would like to retract that statement from the May 11 testimony, “Fauci, as you are aware it is a crime to lie to Congress.”
In the May hearing, Paul pressed Fauci on NIH funding for gain of function research at the Wuhan lab. In his testimony at that hearing, Fauci replied that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Fauci, who oversees several NIH research programs as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he wouldn’t retract his previous statement from the May hearing. “I have not lied before Congress. I have never lied. Certainly not before Congress. Case closed,” Fauci said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 20, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Reuters
He said the study Paul was referring to does not constitute gain of function research. “Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I would like to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about,” Fauci said.
Paul countered: “No one is saying those viruses caused the pandemic. What we’re alleging is that gain of function research was done in that lab and NIH funded it. You can’t get away from it, it meets your definition and you are obfuscating the truth.”
The NIH did fund a nonprofit called the EcoHealth Alliance that assisted in research into bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab, but Fauci maintains that qualified experts have examined the study “up and down” and concluded that it does not constitute gain of function research.
As the two men talked over one another, Fauci interjected that Paul was the one who was obfuscating the truth.
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to accusations by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as he testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite | Pool via | Reuters
“You are implying that what we did resulted in the deaths of individuals,” Fauci responded as he pointed his finger at Paul. “I totally resent that, and if anyone is lying here, senator, it is you.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been under scrutiny since the beginning of the pandemic. The World Health Organization led the first phase of an investigation at the lab into the origins of Covid-19 and the possibility it could have leaked from that lab.
The WHO has called for further cooperation from the Chinese government in the investigation and said the agency was denied the raw data necessary for a more complete probe.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 20, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Reuters
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said last week that the agency is asking “China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic.” He also said there was a “premature push” to rule out the possibility of a lab leak.
In May, the Senate passed legislation that prohibits U.S. agencies from funding the Wuhan lab, and lawmakers in the House of Representatives have a similar bill in the works.
The House Appropriations Committee last week approved an amendment to the National Institutes of Health funding bill for 2022 that would ban funding to the lab.
The bill would also prohibit funding for gain of function research in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
Investigations into the origins of Covid-19 by the WHO and the U.S. government are still underway. President Joe Biden set a deadline of late August for the intelligence community to report back to the president with a clearer picture of the origins of the virus.
At the onset of the investigation, Biden said that according to current intelligence, both a lab leak origin and a natural origin are equally plausible.
Fauci previously said that he leans toward the idea that Covid-19 was transmitted to humans from an animal but has expressed support for the investigations, saying in May that he is “fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China.”