Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, clashed with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over the Republican’s claim about US-funded research in China.
Paul on Tuesday claimed that a 2017 paper from researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology about bat coronaviruses suggested that Fauci lied to Congress in May when he testified that the National Institutes of Health have never funded “gain of function” research to mutate animal viruses to infect humans in China.
"Dr. Fauci, knowing it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement?" Paul asked.
"I have never lied to Congress and I do not retract that statement," Fauci replied. "This paper that you are referring to judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function."
Paul rejected Fauci’s explanation, prompting strong words from the longtime health official.
"Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I would like to say that officially," Fauci said. "You do not know what you are talking about."
Paul claimed that the research met the NIH’s definition of “gain of function” research and claimed Fauci was "dancing around this because you're trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million dying around the world."
"I totally resent the lie you are now propagating, senator," Fauci retorted, explaining it was "molecularly impossible" that the viruses in the research could have caused COVID-19.
"No one is saying those viruses caused the pandemic," Paul argued. "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 are obfuscating the truth."
"I'm not obfuscating the truth, you're the one," Fauci shot back. "You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that. And if anybody is lying here, senator, it is you."
NIH denied claim:
A Washington Post fact-check that looked at similar claims by Paul in May gave him “Two Pinocchios,” arguing that his argument on the research is misleading even if some scientists would classify the 2017 paper as “gain-of-function” research. There is no evidence that the viruses examined in the research could have led to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“NIH has never approved any grant to support 'gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans,” the agency told the outlet. “The research proposed in the EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. grant application sought to understand how bat coronaviruses evolve naturally in the environment to become transmissible to the human population.” When gain-of-function research was paused, “this grant was reviewed again and determined by experts to fall outside the scope of the funding pause.”
Paul threatens criminal referral against Fauci:
Paul is insisting that Fauci lied about the research and told Fox News on Tuesday that he will refer Fauci to the Justice Department.
“Yes, and I will be sending a letter to the Department of Justice asking for a criminal referral because he has lied to Congress. We have scientists that were lined up by the dozens to say that the research he was funding was gain-of-function,” Paul said.
“He’s doing this because he has a self interest to cover his tracks and to cover his connection to Wuhan lab. Now does he deserve all the blame? No, there’s still some conjecture as to whether or not it came from the lab. But he’s lying about whether or not he funded gain-of-function research, and yes, he should be punished,” he added.