Dr. Anthony Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul sparred Tuesday over claims that the Chinese lab where the virus is suspected to have emerged was doing “gain of function” research with funds provided by the National Institutes of Health.
Beginning his questioning by reminding Fauci that lying to Congress is a felony, Paul quizzed Fauci about his testimony from a May hearing in which Fauci denied the NIH-funded gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11 where you claimed at the NIH never funded gain of function research and move on,” Paul (R-Ky.) asked during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement. This paper that you’re referring to was judged by qualified staff, up and down the chain, as not being gain of function,” Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, responded.
But Paul broke in to say that according to the report he cited, a scientist at the Wuhan lab took an animal virus and increased its transmissibility to humans.
“You’re not saying that’s gain of function,” Paul pressed.
“That is correct,” Fauci said.
“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,” Fauci shot back, visibly annoyed.
Paul, an ophthalmologist, said the definition of gain of function involves increasing the transmissibility of a virus in animals to humans.
“They took animal viruses that only occur in animals and they increased their transmissibility to humans,” Paul said, referring to scientists at the Wuhan lab, as the exchange escalated in intensity.
“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 globe because of the pandemic,” Paul said.
The senator went on to say that all of the evidence is pointing to the lab as the source of the pandemic and those who funded the lab will be held responsible.
“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 said.
But Paul accused Fauci of “obfuscating the truth” by not admitting that the Wuhan lab was involved in gain-of-function research.
“I want everyone to understand that if you look at those viruses, and that’s judged by qualified biologists and evolutionary biologists, those viruses are molecularly impossible” to result in COVID, Fauci said.
“And you are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals, I totally resent that, and if anybody was lying here, senator, it is you,” he added.
NIH funding of work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has come under increasing scrutiny, with the theory that the virus accidentally leaked from the lab rather than spreading from bats to humans via another animal, is gaining increasing acceptance.
The Wall Street Journal reported in May that three researchers at the lab became so ill in November of 2019 that they sought hospital treatment. Though it is not clear whether the workers contracted coronavirus, their hospitalization coincides with the period when most experts believe the virus was spreading through the city of Wuhan.