During a contentious back-and-forth with Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday doubled down on his claim that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) did not fund risky gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and angrily accused Paul of lying about the issue.
“You do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly!” the testy NIAID director snapped at Paul.
Fauci reacted angrily to the Kentucky senator’s pointed questions during a Senate committee hearing meant to update lawmakers on the country’s COVID-19 response.
Paul began his line of questioning by asking Fauci if he wanted to retract his previous testimony denying U.S. government funding of gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab.
Gain-of-function is highly controversial research that involves making pathogens and viruses more lethal and virulent in a laboratory.
“As you are aware, it is a crime to lie to Congress,” Paul said, adding that under the criminal code, it’s a federal crime with a five year penalty.
“On your last trip to Congress—on May 11—you stated that the NIH has not ever, and does not now fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Paul continued. “And yet, gain-of-function research was done entirely at the Wuhan Institute by Doctor Shi [Zhengli] and was funded by the NIH.”
Paul cited a paper by Doctor Shi entitled “Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus,” which describes efforts to create a coronavirus that is “not found in nature,” and lists the NIH as a source of funding. Paul pointed out that the research described in the paper “explicitly matches the definition of gain-of-function research.”
Paul went on to cite Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, who said that “the Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronavirus with the ability to infect human cells and laboratory animals. This is high risk research that creates new, potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in the lab, not in nature.”
Still citing Eibright, Paul continued: “the research matches, indeed epitomizes the definition of gain of function research done in Wuhan for which there was supposed to be a federal pause.”
“Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress…do you wish to retract your May 11 claim that the NIH never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan?” Paul asked.
“Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement,” Fauci answered defiantly. “This paper that you are referring to, was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.”
As Fauci continued to obfuscate, Paul interjected, “When you take an animal virus, and you increase its transmissibility to humans—you’re saying that’s not gain-of-function research?”
Fauci shot back, “That is correct, and Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”
Paul interrupted again to give Fauci the NIH’s definition of gain-of-function research, which says “scientific research that increases the transmissibility among animals is gain-of-function.”
“They took animal viruses that only occur in animals and they increased their transmissibility in humans. How you can say that is not gain-of-function?” Paul demanded.
“It is not!” Fauci snapped.
“It’s a dance, and you’re dancing around this, Paul shot back. “You’re trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic.”
At this point, Fauci, the chief medical advisor to Biden, appeared to become rattled by the senator’s accusations.
“If the point you are making is that the grant that was funded as a sub-award from EcoHealth to Wuhan created SARS COVID 2 … that’s where you are getting …” Fauci sputtered.
“We don’t know,” Paul interjected. “We don’t know if it came from the lab, but all the evidence is pointing that it did come from the lab, and there will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself.”
Fauci replied, “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating Senator!” He argued that the viruses involved in the NIH-funded research could not result in the pathogen that caused the current pandemic.
“No one’s saying those viruses caused it,” Paul interrupted. “What we’re alleging is that gain-of-function research was going on in that lab, and NIH funded it. You can’t get away from it. It meets your definition, and you’re obfuscating the truth.”
“I’m not obfuscating the truth, you are the one!” Fauci bellowed. He again blustered that the NIH-funded research could not have caused the pandemic. Paul, again, told him he wasn’t saying that.
“You’re implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that!” Fauci exclaimed.
“It could have been, it could have been,” Paul responded.
“If anybody is lying here senator, it YOU!” Fauci declared angrily, pointing his finger at Paul.