In their latest exchange over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Thursday accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of falsely denying the U.S. government has funded “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Fauci, as President Biden’s top health adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was being confronted during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee about the recent admission by the National Institutes of Health that it funded a grant to EcoHealth Alliance with a sub-award to the Wuhan lab.
“Dr. Fauci, I don’t expect you today to admit that you approved of NIH funding for a gain of function research in Wuhan, but your repeated denials have worn thin,” Paul began, referring to the manipulation of viruses to make them transmissible to humans and more dangerous.
“The facts are clear. The NIH did fund gain of function research in Wuhan despite your protestations,” said Paul.
He charged that Fauci’s “persistent denials … are not simply a stain on your reputation but are clear and present danger to the country and to the world.”
“Will you today finally take some responsibility for funding gain of function research in Wuhan?” Paul asked.
“Senator, with all due respect, I disagree with so many of the things that you’ve said,” Fauci began, arguing that “gain of function” is “a very nebulous term.”
Paul pointed out that the NIH last month removed a section from its website that defined gain of function as “a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent.”
The replacement refers to “enhanced potential pandemic pathogen” research, defined as “research that may be reasonably anticipated to create, transfer or use potential pandemic pathogens resulting from the enhancement of a pathogen’s transmissibility and/or virulence in humans.”
Paul charged that Fauci is “defining away gain of function.”
“You’re simply saying it doesn’t exist because you changed the definition on the NIH website,” the senator said.
“You’re completely trying to escape the idea that we should do something about trying to prevent a pandemic from leaking from a lab.
“There’s the preponderance of evidence now [pointing] towards this coming from the lab and, what you’ve done is change the definition on your website to try to cover your a**, basically,” Paul said.
See the exchange:
Fauci defended the website change, insisting the new definition was created by outside bodies, not the NIH.
Paul shot back, accusing Fauci of evading responsibility.
“You won’t admit that it’s dangerous. And for that lack of judgment, I think it’s time that you resign,” Paul said.
“There are so many things that are an egregious misrepresentation here,” Fauci said.
The White House adviser said Paul was wrong to insist he take responsibility for the current pandemic.
“I have no responsibility for the current pandemic,” Fauci said, as Paul shook his head.
Secondly, Fauci contest Paul’s statement that the overwhelming amount of evidence points to a lab leak.
“I believe most card-carrying viral philologists and molecular virologists would disagree with you, that it is much more likely, even though we leave open all possibilities, it’s much more likely this was a natural occurrence.”
Paul interjected: “We’ve tested 80,000 animals, and no animals have been found with COVID.”
Fauci also took issue with Paul’s the NIH continued to support research at the Wuhan lab.
Paul argued, talking over Fauci, that the NIAID chief admitted a month ago that he still supported the Chinese research.
The chairman interrupted, telling Paul he needed to allow Fauci to respond.
Paul replied: “If he’s going to be dishonest, he ought to be challenged.”
Allowed to continued, Fauci concluded: “He is egregiously incorrect in what he says.”
Last month, Francis Collins announced his resignation as NIH director shortly after molecular biologist Richard Ebright said government documents reported by The Intercept “make it clear that assertions by the NIH Director, Francis Collins, and the NIAID Director, Anthony Fauci, that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful.”
Ebright was among the 16 scientists who authored a letter published in September in the prestigious British science journal The Lancet calling for another look at the evidence that the pandemic began with a lab leak. The scientists condemned a February 2020 letter organized by EcoHealth Alliance founder Peter Daszak marginalizing anyone who entertained the lab-leak theory as a conspiricist.
Ebright and his 15 colleagues said Daszak’s letter and a subsequent missive had “a silencing effect on the wider scientific debate, including among science journalists.”
It was under Collins’ leadership that the NIH lifted a moritorium on gain-of-function research in 2017 that was implemented during the Obama administration due to concerns that the research could trigger an outbreak.
When Paul confronted Fauci at a Senate hearing in May,, the White House coronavirus adviser declared “the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute.”
But Paul pointed out that NIH grant records verify that funds were sent to EcoHealth Alliance that were used for research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And a paper by chief Wuhan research Dr. Shi Zengli — with whom Daszak collaborated — provides details on the research of bat coronaviruses.
Titled “Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses,” the paper acknowledged the funding came from Fauci’s NAID. And MIT scientists who have examined the paper conclude Shi was doing gain-of-function research with that funding.
The paper’s introduction, in fact, describes the risky gain-of-function studies, which alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible and deadly so that a response can be prepared in advance of a possible outbreak. Shi and her colleagues wrote that their research examines the “potential for pathogenesis of SARS-related coronaviruses (SARSr-CoVs) … found in bats, as this information can help prepare countermeasures against future spillover and pathogenic infections in humans with novel coronaviruses.”
See clips of Paul’s confrontation of Fauci:
May 12: “The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute”
May 26: “That is correct” that the NIH never funded gain of function
July 20: “I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract my statement.” pic.twitter.com/hfXQorHv1e
— X Strategies LLC (@XStrategiesLLC) October 21, 2021
Fauci is seen on video at a January 2018 NIAID Advisory Council meeting announcing the reinstatement of gain-of-function research and defending its use.
See the video:
A press release from the Chinese lab recounted a May 2017 conference it hosted, featuring recipients of NIH grants, that focused on “gain of function research and gene editing.”
At another conference in 2017, in which Fauci participated, Daszak is seen in a video telling of “work on coronaviruses in China” that was funded through Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Daszak, speaking on a panel that included Fauci, said that with “funding through NIAID to work on coronaviruses in China, we were able to test out this idea of predicting what the next emerging diseases might be.”
“So we’ve all heard of SARS. We know that SARS is carried by civets. Well, actually, the host of SARS-like viruses, the viruses that the SARS coronavirus emerged from are bats,” Daszak said at the “Healthy People, Healthy Ecosystems” conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.
Daszak and Fauci were part of a three-member panel at the conference with the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, focused on pandemic preparedness.
A description of the panel said: “Although much is known about how to detect and respond to existing infections, more research is needed to predict the likelihood of their emergence and spread, and to improve the precision and timeliness of public health responsiveness.”
In September, the Telegraph of London reported a U.S. grant proposal shows Daszak and his team of researchers at the Wuhan lab sought funding for a plan to make coronavirus particles transmissible to humans and release them in bat populations.
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