Republican Reps. Steve Calise of Louisiana and James Comer of Kentucky called on National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to testify about the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) after thousands of his work emails were released to the public this week.
Thousands of Fauci’s emails covering the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak – 3,200 pages total, many of them redacted – were released recently under a freedom of information request. Some of the emails suggested that his team scrambled in early 2020 to respond to public reporting about the virus leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Those emails also hinted that those officials were concerned about prior U.S. involvement with the laboratory.
Scalise, the top Republican on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and Comer, a ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, issued a letter to top committee Democrats.
They said it is “now imperative that Dr. Fauci come before our committees to provide information related to the origins of the novel coronavirus as well as the U.S. government’s role in funding research that may have contributed to the development of the novel coronavirus.”
Scalise and Comer wrote: “The American people have a right to know what our government knew about the origins of the pandemic and when it was known.”
They added that the “unreacted versions of all of Dr. Fauci’s recently released emails” should be pursued.
Fauci’s NIAID awards grant that funded gain-of-function research at WIV
One of the emails in question was sent to Fauci by Peter Daszak, head of EcoHealth Alliance. In the email sent in April last year, Daszak praised Fauci and called him “brave” for seeking to debunk the lab leak-theory.
During interviews with CNN and MSNBC on Thursday, Fauci said that an email he received from the EcoHealth Alliance executive has been misconstrued.
“That’s nonsense. I don’t even see how they get that from that email,” said Fauci. “I have always said, and will say today to you … that I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human, but I keep an absolutely open mind that if there may be other origins of that, there may be another reason, it could have been a lab leak.”
Documents show about $600,000 of a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) given to EcoHealth Alliance was channeled to the WIV to study bat coronaviruses.
The NIAID, a sub-agency under the NIH, awarded the grant to the nonprofit group. That grant apparently ended up funding WIV scientists conducting gain-of-function research, a risky area of study that makes a virus even more contagious. (Related: Fauci secretly funded gain of function research at Wuhan lab that produced Covid-19.)
Under this premise, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin said Thursday, June 3, that they started an investigation into what they described as a lack of oversight into gain-of-function research.
The White House has defended Fauci amid scrutiny of his recently released work emails. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Fauci had been an “undeniable asset” in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The president and the administration feel that Dr. Fauci has played an incredible role in getting the pandemic under control, being a voice to the public throughout the course of this pandemic,” Psaki said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Trump: Fauci has a lot of questions to answer
Allies of the infectious disease specialist say Fauci’s messages show nothing more than a dedicated public servant navigating the early days of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But conservative critics are suggesting Fauci may have engaged in a cover-up, and claim that he perjured himself in testimony to Congress.
During congressional testimony on May 12, Fauci emphatically denied the U.S. had ever funded gain-of-function research at the WIV. In a subsequent Senate hearing on May 26, Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana asked how Fauci could be sure that Wuhan scientists did not use the money for gain-of-function research.
“You never know,” Fauci conceded, adding that he believed the Chinese researchers were “trustworthy.”
Former President Donald Trump, widely vilified last year when he raised the possibility that COVID-19 came from the WIV, said on Thursday that Fauci has a lot of questions to answer. Related: Fauci failed to warn Trump White House about gain of function research ban being lifted.)
“What did Dr. Fauci know about gain-of-function research, and when did he know it?” Trump said in a statement. “China should pay $10 trillion to America and the world for the death and destruction they have caused.”
COVID-19 has infected more than 172 million people and killed more than 3.7 million around the world.
According to an investigation published Thursday in Vanity Fair magazine, Department of State officials discussed the origins of coronavirus at a meeting on December 9, 2020. They were told not to explore claims about gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan lab to avoid attracting unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of such research.
Gain-of-function studies involve altering pathogens to make them more transmissible in order to learn more about how they might mutate.
The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill and were admitted to hospital in November 2019, weeks before the first reported COVID-19 cases.
Days after the report came out, President Joe Biden instructed intelligence agencies to conduct a 90-day review into whether the virus could have emerged from a Chinese lab. His administration had previously deferred to the World Health Organization for answers on how the pandemic began.
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