While there is no love lost between Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who have clashed before at various Senate hearings, an exchange Tuesday between the two men was especially bitter.
Paul grilled Fauci, the Biden White House chief medical advisor, at a Senate hearing over whether the NIH funded controversial research that the senator suggested could have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci denied the charge while essentially splitting the hairs over what constitutes such research.
“Dr. Fauci, knowing that it’s a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11th where you claimed that the NIH never funded gain of function research in Wuhan?” Paul asked, after detailing what he said was gain of function research.
But then, it was clear the exchange was going to be contentious when the senator opened by reminding Fauci that it’s a felony to lie to Congress, which carries a five-year penalty, before referencing a May appearance by Fauci before the committee.
“You stated that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Paul said. “And yet, gain of function research was done entirely in the Wuhan Institute by Dr. Shi and was funded by the NIH.”
Paul cited a Wuhan virology paper titled, “Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses,” saying Dr. Shi “credits the NIH and lists the actual number of the grant that she was given by the NIH.”
“In this paper, she took two bat coronavirus genes, spike genes, and combined them with SARS-related backbone to create new viruses that are not found in nature,” Paul explained. “These lab-created viruses were then to shown to replicate in humans. These experiments combined genetic information from different coronaviruses that infect animals, but not humans, to create novel artificial viruses able to infect human cells.
“Viruses that in nature only infect animals were manipulated in the Wuhan lab to gain the function of infecting humans,” he continued. “This research fits the definition of the research that the NIH said was subject to the pause in 2014-2017, a pause in funding on gain of function. But the NIH failed to recognize this.”
Responding to being asked about retracting his previous statement, Fauci defiantly said, “I have not lied before Congress. I’ve never lied. Certainly not before Congress. Case closed.”
He went on to claim that “qualified staff up and down the chain” had determined that the research detailed in the paper was not gain of function research.
As they went back and forth on this, the media-savvy NIH director scored the sound bite of the day when he angrily declared, “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.”
On that note, Washington Post columnist and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin sided with Paul, tweeting that the senator “was right and Fauci was wrong.”
Hey guys, @RandPaul was right and Fauci was wrong. The NIH was funding gain of function research in Wuhan but NIH pretended it didn't meet their "gain of function" definition to avoid their own oversight mechanism. SorryNotSorry if that doesn't fit your favorite narrative.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) July 20, 2021
They continued to argue over whether the research qualifies as gain of function, with Paul methodically making his case that it is.
“How you can say that is not gain of function — it’s a dance and you’re dancing around this because you’re trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic,” he said.
The remark angered Fauci further, as he disputed that any funding provided to the lab played a role in the creation of COVID-19.
“We don’t know if it did come from the lab,” the GOP lawmaker fired back. “But all the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab and there will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself.”
“I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, Senator, because if you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments that were given in the annual reports that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible —“ Fauci replied, before being cut off.
“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,” Paul insisted.
With Paul’s time expired, Fauci was allowed to respond and he continued to push the issue that the research referenced could not have resulted in COVID-19.
“No one is saying they are. No one is saying those viruses caused the pandemic,” Paul interrupted. “We’re saying they are gain-of-function viruses because they are animal viruses that became more transmissible in humans and you funded it. And you can’t admit the truth.”
“And you are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that,” Fauci countered. “And if anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you!”
In a Tuesday night appearance on Fox News’s “Hannity,” Paul said he will be sending a letter to the Department of Justice asking for a criminal referral of Dr. Fauci.
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