Dr. Anthony Fauci and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky erupted in a contentious debate over the origins of the coronavirus during a hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, prompting the nation’s top infectious disease expert to once again rebuke Paul.
At issue were Paul’s unfounded claims that the National Institutes of Health played a role in funding research that led to the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially,” Fauci told Paul who has repeatedly, without evidence, suggested that the NIH funded so-called gain-of-function research – work done on viruses to make them grow better or to make them more infectious or more virulent – at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Paul on Tuesday asked Fauci whether or not he “wish[ed] to retract” a May 11 statement claiming that the NIH did not fund such research.
“Sen. Paul, I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement,” Fauci told Paul, adding that the research in question “was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function.”
The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has funded research by the New York based EcoHealth Alliance, which in turn has worked with the Wuhan laboratory. Fauci directs the NIAID and would have overseen the grant process.
Paul – who continued to suggest the NIH was responsible for funding such research, despite Fauci’s denial – went so far as to say that Fauci was “trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic.”
“I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator,” Fauci said in response to Paul’s allegation.
“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 told Paul.
“If anybody is lying here senator, it is you,” Fauci said.
While questions continue to swirl over how the coronavirus came to be, scientists and virologists have said that the gain of function explanation is unlikely.
For months, most scientists who study coronaviruses and who have investigated the origins of the pandemic have said the evidence strongly supports a natural origin.
However, senior Biden administration officials overseeing an intelligence review into the origins of the virus last week said they now believe the theory that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan is at least as credible as the possibility that it emerged naturally in the wild.
Still, more than halfway into President Joe Biden’s renewed 90-day push to find answers, the intelligence community remains firmly divided over whether the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab or jumped naturally from animals to humans in the wild.
CNN’s Maggie Fox, Natasha Bertrand, Pamela Brown, Katie Bo Williams and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.