Fauci dismisses ‘preposterous’ allegations that he led covid coverup (2024)

Anthony S. Fauci defended himself Monday against claims that he orchestrated a coverup of the coronavirus pandemic’s origins, with the former government official rejecting some allegations as “simply preposterous.”

The prominent infectious-disease expert, who served as a senior leader at the National Institutes of Health for four decades before leaving government at the end of 2022, said Republicans have distorted emails between himself and other scientists as they discussed whether a laboratory leak of the coronavirus was possible.

“We spend our whole life trying to determine the causes of infectious diseases, and stop them to protect the American people,” Fauci said, adding that he did not pressure colleagues to reach a conclusion about the origins of the virus while disputing other Republican charges.


The former health adviser in the Trump and Biden administrations testified Monday before the House panel investigating the nation’s coronavirus response. The contentious hearing unfolded for 3½ hours. It came amid a battle between the panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders over whether its focus on Fauci is necessary to understand the virus’s possible origins, or a waste of time that is propagating unproven theories about the pandemic and damaging confidence in public health.

It is the first time Fauci has faced a GOP-led panel publicly to answer questions about the covid-19 pandemic, which is linked to the deaths of more than 1 million Americans. Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees U.S. health agencies, also joined the hearing. Fauci privately testified before the lawmakers for 14 hours in January.

The panel has not found evidence that Fauci led a coverup or that the virus leaked from a laboratory. Most U.S. intelligence entities probing the pandemic favor the theory that the virus emerged naturally, via animal-to-human transmission.

Republicans on Monday pushed on the relationship between Fauci and EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that received funding from Fauci’s agency to conduct risky virus research in Wuhan, China. Federal officials halted funding to EcoHealth last month, saying the organization failed to monitor and report on that work. Republicans also focused on David Morens, a former Fauci deputy who deleted emails and took other steps to evade federal records law as he emailed with EcoHealth officials and other colleagues.

“We have senior officials from your office, in their own writing, discussing breaking federal law, deleting official records and sharing private government information with grant recipients,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the panel, said in prepared remarks. Fauci distanced himself from Morens, saying he “knew nothing” about his former colleague’s actions regarding EcoHealth or his emails, and rebuked him for violating NIH policies.

Democrats rallied around Fauci, defending the 83-year-old scientist’s government service and saying that his work to combat HIV and other viruses saved countless lives in the United States and around the world. Fauci testified that he and his family have faced persistent death threats over allegations that he played a role in sparking the covid-19 pandemic.


Republicans have “wasted significant time and taxpayer money” pursuing conspiracies about the pandemic, said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Energy Committee’s oversight panel. She called on lawmakers to pivot to other efforts, such as stalled legislation to reauthorize funding for public health preparedness programs. “It’s not too late for Republicans to join us,” Castor said.

In an interview after the hearing, Rep. Raul Ruiz (Calif.), the covid panel’s top Democrat, told The Washington Post that he did not learn “a single thing” from the session, urging the GOP-led panel to drop its “narrative” that Fauci and his colleagues covered up the virus’s possible creation in a laboratory.

The hearing with Fauci, widely viewed as the face of the United States’ coronavirus response, drew a circus-style environment to a covid panel that has often struggled for attention as the public has moved on from the pandemic. A line of would-be spectators snaked around the Rayburn House Office Building, seeking a seat in the standing-room-only hearing; a person sitting in the front row wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “JAIL FAUCI.”

Lawmakers also packed the roster, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a member of the covid panel who skipped seven of its last 10 hearings. Greene also briefly brought the hearing to a halt by accusing Fauci of wrongdoing with lab experiments on beagles and other matters, saying he should be in prison and refusing to address him as a doctor. Democrats protested Greene’s accusations, and Wenstrup rebuked her for violating decorum. Fauci expressed puzzlement over why Greene was invoking beagles at a hearing dedicated to the covid response.

Republicans also pressed Fauci on broader pandemic issues, such as when he privately told the panel in January that the federal government’s recommendation for six-foot social distancing “sort of just appeared” in early 2020 and that the choice of distance “wasn’t based on data.”


Fauci said Monday he meant there was no clinical trial to settle on the distance of six feet, and that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who crafted the recommendation were basing the distance on early expectations of how the virus spread. The answer did not satisfy Republicans, asking why Fauci did not push CDC officials to change the recommendation as it became clear that virus particles could float in the air for hours, particularly in enclosed environments, and that six feet of social distancing alone would not be sufficient to protect against infection without other measures such as masking and ventilation.

“This six-foot rule crippled businesses, it allowed students to stay at home and not learn,” Rep. John Joyce (R-Pa.) said. Other countries and the World Health Organization recommended a distance of about three feet of social distance, and experts said a similar measure in the United States would have allowed schools to reopen more quickly.

Leading up to the hearing, public health groups had warned that health officials such as Fauci were being harassed for their pandemic work, and urged the panel to focus more on shoring up confidence in the field. Some prominent scientists have accused the panel of feeding conspiracies and intimidating virologists, saying that Republicans are damaging a workforce that will be needed when the next pandemic inevitably arrives.

6/n and it is anti-science for a committee to create such an atmosphere of intimidation against American virologists and infectious disease experts that we will have no workforce in place when the next pandemic comes to America.

— Prof Peter Hotez MD PhD (@PeterHotez) May 25, 2024

Other outside experts said they understand the panel’s questions — even if they don’t think a covid coverup exists at the highest levels of government.


“I don’t agree with the tone and sort of breathlessness” behind Wenstrup and other Republicans’ questions, said Holden Thorp, editor of the journal Science. “At the same time, I think that the scientific community has made a number of mistakes that don’t look super good for us all … [and] that have made it easier for them to make this case.”

Thorp testified before the panel in April about how academic journals had approached their coronavirus coverage and whether officials such as Fauci had pressured them to downplay the lab-leak theory, a charge that Thorp denied. Like many of the coronavirus panel’s recent hearings before Monday, it drew scant attention, including from Republicans who had called the hearing; just three of the panel’s nine GOP members attended.

Reached after the hearing, public health experts generally said they felt Fauci performed well amid a barrage of confrontational questions.


Kenneth W. Bernard, who served as a special assistant to the president for security and health during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, said it was a “good hearing for Dr. Fauci” and that he thought Wenstrup’s questions were fair — though he dismissed other Republicans’ inquiries as “predictably closed-minded,” and Greene particularly as “an idiot.”

Chris Meekins, a former Trump administration official who worked on biopreparedness, credited Fauci with navigating “highly telegraphed and well-worn lines of attack” from Republicans. But Meekins warned that the GOP-led panel would probably dig through Fauci’s lengthy testimony to search for new contradictions or errors, as they have with Fauci’s different definitions of “gain-of-function” research.

Fauci dismisses ‘preposterous’ allegations that he led covid coverup (2024)
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