Fauci to Face Grilling by Republican Committee on Covid Origins

USA

Over 15 months, a House panel has not linked Dr. Fauci to the beginnings of the pandemic. But it found emails suggesting aides were skirting public records laws.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the former government scientist both celebrated and despised for his work on Covid, is set to return to Capitol Hill on Monday for a reunion with some of his fiercest antagonists: members of a Republican-led House panel who accuse him of helping to set off the worst pandemic in a century.

Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic have spent 15 months rooting through emails, Slack messages and research proposals for evidence against Dr. Fauci. In half a million pages of documents and more than 100 hours of closed-door testimony, the panel has so far found nothing linking the 83-year-old immunologist to the beginnings of the Covid outbreak in China.

But the panel has turned up emails suggesting that Dr. Fauci’s former aides were trying to evade public records laws at the medical research agency he ran for 38 years until his retirement in December 2022.

Some of those emails paint Dr. Fauci as being preoccupied with his public image; one April 2021 message from an aide said that while Dr. Fauci “prides himself on being like teflon,” he appeared to be “getting worried about the brown stuff hitting the fan” over questions about research funded by his agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Over the years, the agency gave research grants to EcoHealth Alliance, an American nonprofit group that partnered with international scientists — including some at a coronavirus lab in Wuhan, China, the city where the pandemic eventually started — as part of efforts to anticipate disease outbreaks.

Dr. Fauci’s appearance at a hearing of the House panel on Monday will be lawmakers’ first chance to ask him about his agency’s record-keeping practices. For Republicans on the committee, the hearing is also the pinnacle, so far, of a long campaign against American scientists and health officials who they have suggested helped start the Covid pandemic.

No new evidence for the pandemic emerging from a lab, with or without the help of American taxpayer funding, has emerged in a series of high-profile hearings over the past year. Democratic lawmakers have warned that the subcommittee’s work amounted to “an effort to weaponize concerns about a lab-related origin to fuel sentiment against our nation’s scientists and public health officials for partisan gain.”

But Dr. Fauci, who spent more than 50 years in government service and advised presidents of both parties on outbreaks of infectious diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, anthrax and the flu, was always the panel’s most prized quarry. In working under President Donald J. Trump and then President Biden, Dr. Fauci became the face of a Covid response that generated both veneration and frustration from Americans.

Appearing frequently on television, Dr. Fauci became a hero to Mr. Trump’s critics for correcting his falsehoods about the coronavirus. In the pandemic’s early days, he also downplayed the importance of masks for the general public, seeking to preserve them for medical workers, but then later encouraged mask use — prompting his critics to say that he was flip-flopping. And he publicly celebrated the Covid shots, turning the anti-vaccine movement against him.

At the House hearing on Monday, Dr. Fauci will almost certainly face a chilly reception. Republicans on the panel have studiously been trying to build a case that lab work funded by the institute Dr. Fauci used to run may have contributed to the start of the Covid pandemic.

Republicans have focused in particular on funding the institute awarded to EcoHealth Alliance that was passed on to Chinese scientists. They have accused those scientists of cooking up the coronavirus in their Wuhan lab.

“Covid-19 wasn’t created by bats in a wet market,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, asserted last year as the subcommittee’s work got underway. “It was manufactured in a lab funded by Fauci. He tried to cover it up.”

Scientists and health officials have repeatedly noted that the coronaviruses being studied at the Wuhan lab with American funding — as well as other such viruses known to be the subject of research there — bore little resemblance to the one that set off the pandemic. A National Institutes of Health official testified last year before a different House committee that comparisons between the two were like “saying that a human is equivalent to a cow.”

In closed-door testimony before the House coronavirus panel in January, Dr. Fauci said, as he has previously, that it was possible that lab research had sparked the pandemic and that he kept “an open mind” about the origins. But, he said, “Some people spin off things from that that are kind of crazy.” And he reiterated that, in his view, the weight of evidence pointed toward the virus originating from animals before spilling into humans outside a lab.

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