7 highlights as Fauci testifies under oath on COVID-19

Fauci took questions under oath before the House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Fauci COVID-19
Dr. Anthony Fauci testified Monday before the House panel investigating the origins of COVID-19. (YouTube screenshot)

(The Daily Signal) — Dr. Anthony Fauci testified Monday before the House panel investigating the origins of COVID-19, defending pandemic-era restrictions and again sharply denying financial support for gain-of-function research with coronaviruses.

Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, took questions under oath before the House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Here are seven highlights of the panel’s hearing.

1. ‘Regulatory and operative definition’

Fauci fielded questions from several lawmakers on National Institutes of Health grants to the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based organization that in turn funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. NIH includes the agency directed by Fauci for nearly 40 years, until his retirement at the end of 2022.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a suspension of funding to the EcoHealth Alliance.

COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan. The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies reached  a consensus that the virus that causes COVID-19 emerged from a lab leak there.

Before taking questions from the House panel, Fauci affirmed in his opening remarks that “according to the regulatory and operative definition, … the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

However, NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak had told the House panel that under the generic definition of gain-of-function research, NIH indeed funded such research at the Wuhan lab.

Critics of Fauci have said the NIH used EcoHealth to fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is suspected to have led to the initial spread of COVID-19.

The term “gain of function” describes a risky process of making a pathogen more dangerous or contagious for the purpose of studying a response.

During the hearing, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., asked: “Dr. Fauci, did the National Institutes of Health fund the potentially dangerous enhanced potential pandemic pathogens gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology?”

Fauci replied: “I would not categorize it the way you did.”

“The National Institutes of Health gave a sub-award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, funded research on the surveillance on the possibility of emerging infections. I would not characterize it as dangerous gain-of-function research,” he explained.

2. ‘Trust the expertise’

Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, pressed Fauci about accountability for COVID-19.

“Your name is on every single grant,” Cloud told Fauci. “Yet, you absolve yourself of every single responsibility by saying it goes to this committee that has a number of people on it and it’s approved in block. So, there is no accountability for anything, any of the taxpayer dollars that are going forth.”

Fauci objected.

“We fund thousands of grants,” Fauci said. “It would be physically impossible for me to go through every single grant in a detailed way to understand it.”

Cloud followed up by asking, “Why does your signature go on it?”

Fauci replied: “Because someone has to sign off on it and you trust the expertise and the competence of the staff that go over it.”

3. ‘To the best of my knowledge’

Fauci said some of his top staff, mainly Dr. David Morens, for years a senior adviser at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, violated NIH policy on public records.

Morens last month admitted to Congress that he used private email to dodge disclosure of public information about NIH grants to the EcoHealth Alliance, the organization that worked and helped fund the Wuhan lab.

House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., pressed Fauci on the issue of his longtime senior adviser.

“Did you ever delete an official record?

Fauci replied, “No.”

Comer asked, “Dr. Fauci, did you ever conduct official business via [personal] email?”

Fauci replied: “To the best of my recollection and knowledge, I have never conducted official business via my private email.”

Comer later said there was a “troubling pattern” among Fauci’s inner circle.

Fauci said, “Using a personal email for official business violates NIH policy.”

Comer asked: “On April 28, 2020, Dr. Morens edited an EcoHealth press release regarding the grant termination. Does that violate policy?”

Fauci replied: “That was inappropriate for him to be doing that for a grantee, as a conflict of interest among other things.”

4. ‘Open mind’ on lab leak

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., pressed Fauci on whether he tried to suppress the lab leak theory, quoting him.

“You have said, ‘I’ve heard these conspiracy theories and like all conspiracy theories, they’re just conspiracy theories.’ That’s what you told the American people,” Malliotakis said. “So would you like to clarify what science were you following then versus now?”

Fauci said he didn’t mean everyone was a conspiracy theorist, before launching into a scenario comparing himself to a fictional movie character played by actor Matt Damon.

“I don’t think the concept of there being a lab leak is inherently a conspiracy theory,” Fauci said. “What is conspiracy is a kind of distortion of that particular subject, like it was a lab leak and I was parachuted into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, read aloud communications from Meta executives, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, noting that the Biden administration suppressed posts about a leak from a Chinese lab.

“Why was it so important that the virus not have started in a lab?” Jordan said.

Fauci replied: “It wasn’t so important that the virus not [have started in a lab]. We don’t know.”

Jordan followed up.

“Well, it was important to someone in the Biden administration. So much so that the top people at Meta, the top people at Facebook, are asking, ‘Why are we getting all this pressure to downplay the lab leak theory?’” the Ohio Republican said.

Fauci protested, “What does that got to do with me?”

“I’m asking you because you’re the expert on the coronavirus. Why was the administration pushing not to have the lab leak theory?” Jordan asked.

Fauci replied, “I can’t answer that. I’ve kept an open mind.”

“Kept an open mind,” Jordan said, using a skeptical tone.

5. ‘Durability’ of vaccine

Speaking about COVID-19 vaccines, Fauci seemed to admit to Cloud, a Texas Republican, that they had limited capacity to stop the spread of the disease.

“It is very, very clear that [COVID-19] vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Fauci said.

“Did the vaccines stop anyone from getting COVID?” Cloud asked.

“Early on, it became clear that—,” Fauci began.

Cloud interrupted: “They didn’t.”

“Actually no,” Fauci said. “In the beginning, it clearly prevented infection in a certain percentage of people but the durability of its ability to prevent infection was not long. It was measured in months.”

Cloud asked: “And it didn’t stop you from spreading [COVID-19], either?”

Fauci answered: “Early on, it prevented infection, but it became clear that it did not prevent transmission when the ability to prevent infection waned.”

6. ‘Tsunami of deaths’

Cloud listed COVID-19 mitigation efforts and asked whether Fauci would do anything differently if given another chance.

Fauci doubled down on his recommendations at the time.

“Business closures?” Cloud asked.

Fauci: “Early on, when 5,000 people were dying a day, yes.”

Cloud: “Church closures?”

Fauci: “Same thing.”

Through several questions, Cloud also asked about school closures, stay-at-home orders, and mask mandates for children and adults.

“These were important when we were trying to stop the tsunami of deaths that were occurring early on,” Fauci responded. “How long you kept them going is debatable.”

However, early in the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, listed the negative effects of many pandemic measures.

“Any dissent from your chosen position was immediately labeled as anti-science,” Wenstrup said. “Anything less than complete submission to the mandates could cost you your livelihood, your ability to go into public, your child’s ability to attend school.”

Wenstrup continued:

“Families were thrown off planes and shamed when their 2-year-olds struggled to wear a mask. Children with disabilities lost access to therapies that they and their families depended on. Students were out of the classroom and told to attend school remotely even when the science clearly demonstrated it was safe for them to go back in the classroom.
This harmed low-income students the most. How were single-parent households supposed to teach their own children and work at the same time? Dr. Fauci, you oversaw one of the most invasive regimes of domestic policy the U.S. has ever seen, including mask mandates, school closures, coerced vaccinations, social distancing of 6 feet, and more.”
7. ‘Podcasters, conspiracy theorists, and unhinged Facebook memes’

Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., gave Fauci an opening to defend his COVID-19 policies.

“Do you think the American public should listen to America’s brightest and best doctors and scientists, or instead listen to podcasters, conspiracy theorists, and unhinged Facebook memes?” Garcia asked the immunologist.

Fauci replied: “Listening to the people who you just described is going to do nothing but harm people because they will deprive themselves of lifesaving interventions, which has happened.”

Fauci said research has shown this to be the case.

“People that refuse to get vaccinated for any variety of reasons [were] probably responsible for an additional 200,000 to 300,000 deaths in this country,” Fauci said.

This article was originally published at The Daily Signal


Fred Lucas

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."