fauci-testifies-on-the-origins-of-covid-19

Fauci testifies on the origins of Covid-19

Politics
6:23 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

Key takeaways from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony at House hearing on Covid-19 pandemic

From CNN’s Jen Christensen, Elise Hammond, Antoinette Radford and Maureen Chowdhury

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), testified Monday at a House subcommittee hearing about the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the origins of the virus.

The hearing was Fauci’s first public testimony on Capitol Hill since his retirement from government service. It turned contentious at times as Republicans grilled Fauci over a wide range of topics, including the basis for public health recommendations during the pandemic and email use by public health officials.

Here are key takeaways from the hearing:

  • US still needs to be better prepared for next pandemic: Fauci said there are still some things the US needs to work on to be ready for another pandemic, saying in “some respects” the country is better prepared to deal with a health crisis than in 2020, “but in others, I am still disappointed.” One thing that he hopes the US will do better moving forward is tightening communication between the federal response and local public health officials.
  • Republicans grill Fauci over public health official’s use of email: Fauci testified Monday that he has not used his personal email to conduct business, and he was not aware before a congressional investigation that a former senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health had used an unofficial email. The House Oversight select subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic previously released a series of private emails that Republicans argue show that some NIH officials deleted emails and tried to get around requirements to disclose information through public records laws.
  • Fauci testifies about possible origins of virus that caused Covid-19: Fauci testified that in early 2020, he was informed through phone calls with two scientists that they and others were concerned that the virus that causes Covid-19 could have been manipulated in the lab. The day after those calls, Fauci said several international virologists examined it further and found that “several who at first were concerned about lab manipulation became convinced that the virus was not deliberately manipulated.” Scientists found the most likely scenario, Fauci said, was a virus that transferred from an animal to a human, “although they still kept an open mind.”
  • Fauci details threats he and his family have received: Fauci detailed the threats he received during his time as the director of the NIAID, describing threats against him and his family. “Everything from harassments from emails, texts, letters of myself, my wife, my three daughters. There have been credible death threats leading to the arrest of two individuals – and credible death threats means someone who clearly was on their way to kill me. And it’s required my having protective services essentially all the time.”
  • 6-foot social distance guideline: Fauci clarified that the 6-foot guidance for social distancing given during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic did not come from him, but from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fauci, who repeated the guidance during the pandemic, once said that there was no science behind it — but he meant that there were no clinical trials to back it up. He added that he believed the CDC used studies about droplets years ago as reasoning for the 6-foot guidelines.
2:38 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

Fauci says he supports suspending funding to EcoHealth Alliance

CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Monday he supports suspending US grant funding to EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based virus research organization that has been tied to question and controversy around the origins of the virus that causes Covid-19.

The US Department of Health and Human Services in May suspended funding to EcoHealth Alliance and proposed the group be blocked from receiving federal funds in the future, possibly for years.

Asked on Monday if he supposed the suspension and debarment of EcoHealth Alliance, Fauci responded “yes.” 

Before the pandemic, the US gave a $120,000 grant to EcoHealth Alliance with a subaward that funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In April 2020, the National Institutes of Health terminated the grant.

Fauci said that he later learned that the White House had called to tell the NIH to cancel the grant. Asked Monday if he agreed or disagreed with the decision at the time, he said that wasn’t his problem with the request.

“It wasn’t a question of agreeing or disagreeing. It was like, ‘Can we really do that? I don’t think that you can do that.’ And as it turned out I was right, because the general counsel of HHS said, ‘By the way, you can’t do that. You’ve got to restore the grant,’ ” Fauci testified.

The grant was reinstated, then suspended pending a compliance review.

Fauci said once he learned that there were compliance issues with the grant, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was told to stay out of it.

Since that time, NIH found numerous violations of grant policies by EcoHealth and has since blocked funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and suspended and proposed blocking NIH funding to EcoHealth as an institution and Dr. Peter Daszak individually.

In a May letter to EcoHealth Alliance and its president, Dr. Peter Daszak, HHS lists 30 pieces of evidence some dating back to 2013 to support its decision. HHS said in a memo that EcoHealth failed to “adequately monitor” virus growth experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, notify the NIH that viruses studied there “appeared to grow beyond permissible thresholds” laid out in a grant or provide requested information in a timely manner.

In a statement last month, a spokeperson for EcoHealth Alliance said the organization was “disappointed by HHS’ decision” and that it would contest the decision.

1:56 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

GOP subcommittee chair and ranking member wrap up hearing with closing statements

From CNN’s Maureen Chowdhury

In his closing statement, Ranking Member Raul Ruiz thanked Dr. Anthony Fauci for his testimony and for his decades of service to the nation in dealing with various epidemics and pandemics.

He also blasted Republicans for pushing extreme narratives for political gain.

“Over the past four years you have been personally targeted by extreme narratives of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and the US governments response to it,” Ruiz said. “These extreme narratives have been the bedrock of this subcommittees Republican-led probe and have been undermined by what’s been found through interviews and by thousands of documents that have been reviewed.”

Ruiz added that the evidence found that “Dr. Fauci did not fund research through the EcoHealth Alliance Grant that caused the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Fauci did not lie about gain of function research in Wuhan China, Dr. Fauci did not orchestrate a campaign to suppress the lab-leak theory.”

Subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup also thanked Fauci for coming voluntarily to testify.

He went on to say that the hearing was an opportunity to learn more about the government’s Covid-19 response and how the government can improve and do better. He said that while there some things that were done well, there were some wrongdoings in the office where Fauci served.

Wenstrup highlighted that moving forward, clarity is important in order to improve messaging.

“I think what I’m most concerned about as we go forward as a country and from our agencies is that we an be trusted and that we are better in our messaging and talk about clarity,” Wenstrup said.

1:21 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

Officials will evaluate “cost-benefit ratio” of vaccine mandates in analysis of pandemic response, Fauci says

From CNN’s Elise Hammond

When evaluating the United States’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, public health officials will take a closer look at “the cost-benefit ratio” of things like vaccine mandates, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Fauci was answering a question about whether issuing mandates could have led to vaccine hesitancy.

“That’s something that I think we need to go back now, when we do an after-the-event evaluation about whether or not given the psyche of the country and the pushback that you get from those types of things — we need to reevaluate the cost-benefit ratio of those types of things,” Fauci said.

Earlier in the hearing, Fauci defended the government’s use of vaccines as saving “hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States and millions of lives throughout the world.

12:52 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

US still needs to close communication gaps to be better prepared for next pandemic, Fauci says

From CNN’s Elise Hammond

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Monday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Monday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci said there are still some things the United States needs to work on to be more prepared for another pandemic in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said in “some respects” the country is better prepared to deal with a health crisis than in 2020, “but in others, I am still disappointed.”

Fauci was answering a question from Florida Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who served as the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management during the pandemic. The lawmaker said he felt that states were not ready to deal with Covid-19.

“I think one of the things that was really a problem with the response was the degree of divisiveness that we had in the country about a lack of a coherent response where we were having people, for reasons that had nothing to do with public health or science, refusing to adhere to public health intervention measures,” Fauci said.

One thing that he hopes the US will do better moving forward is tightening communication between the federal response and local public health officials.

He said there was a “disconnect between the healthcare system and the public health system” during Covid-19 in the US. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) could not demand information from local agencies, which caused a lag in sharing data.

“We were at a disadvantage,” Fauci said, adding that the CDC is working on ways to fix this pain point.

1:55 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

California lawmaker whose parents died of Covid-19 thanks Fauci for life-saving policies

From CNN’s Elise Hammond

Rep. Robert Garcia speaks during a hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Rep. Robert Garcia speaks during a hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Capitol Hill on Monday. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

California Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia, who said both of his parents died from Covid-19, thanked Dr. Anthony Fauci for putting in policies that saved lives during the pandemic.

Garcia said his mother was a health care worker and she and his step-father both died from Covid-19.

“I lost both of my parents during the pandemic, so I take this very personally,” he said, condemning other lawmakers “who are tasked to be responsible and actually help the American people” attack medical professionals, Garcia said.

The comments came after heated remarks from Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene who criticized mask mandates and called for Fauci to be put in prison.

“Your quote-unquote so-called science that the gentlewoman is referring to has saved millions of lives in this country and around the world,” Garcia said. “It’s important to note that my opinion is that you are an American hero and your team has done more to save lives than all 435 members of this body on both sides of the aisle.”

12:44 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

GOP chairman has to remind Marjorie Taylor Greene to be respectful as she refuses to call Fauci a doctor

CNN’s Haley Talbot

GOP Chairman Brad Wenstrup had to remind Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to be respectful after she insisted that she would not refer to Dr. Anthony Fauci by the title of doctor and would only refer to him as “Mr. Fauci.”

“You’re not doctor, you’re Mr. Fauci in my few minutes,” Greene said.

In response, Wenstrup ordered Greene to address Fauci as a doctor. “I have instructed her to address him as doctor,” Wenstrup said. 

“I’m not addressing him as doctor,” she shot back.  

Several Democratic lawmakers jumped in to criticize Greene over her refusal to address Fauci as a doctor.

Wenstrup then asked members to “afford all other members the respect they are entitled” and to “refrain from using rhetoric that could be construed as an attack on the motives or character of another member or the witness.”

1:04 p.m. ET, June 3, 2024

Fauci: NIH official using unofficial email is an “aberrancy and an outlier”

CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified Monday that he has not used his personal email to conduct business, and he was not aware before a congressional investigation that a former senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health had used unofficial email.

“What you saw, I believe, with Dr. Morens was aberrancy and an outlier,” Fauci testified on Monday, referring to a former senior adviser at NIH. “The individuals at the NIH and NIAID are a very committed group of individuals and this one instance that you point out is an aberrancy and an outlier.”

The House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic previously released a series of private emails that Republican members of the committee argue show that some NIH officials deleted emails and tried to get around requirements to disclose information through public records laws.

In a memo published at the end of May, committee members said Dr. David Morens, a former senior adviser to Fauci, engaged in “nefarious behavior.” The committee points to email that Morens sent another colleague that suggests he would send email to Fauci’s private account and “there is no worry about FOIAs.” FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act, the law that gives the public the right to obtain federal records, including emails sent within government agencies. Morens’ email goes on to say that he can also hand information to Fauci to avoid it being a part of the public record.

“He is too smart to let colleagues send him stuff that could cause trouble,” Morens said in a 2021 email to Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit virus research organization linked to controversy about the origins of the virus that causes Covid-19. The US Department of Health and Human Services suspended funding to the group in May.

11:48 a.m. ET, June 3, 2024

Fauci details threats he and his family have received

From CNN’s Antoinette Radford

Anthony Fauci detailed the threats he received during his time as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, describing death threats against him and threats against his wife and daughters.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell asked Fauci to explain what some of the threats were, where he replied:

“Everything from harassments from emails, texts, letters of myself, my wife, my three daughters. There have been credible death threats leading to the arrest of two individuals – and credible death threats means someone who clearly was on their way to kill me. And it’s required my having protective services essentially all the time,” Fauci said.

“It is very troublesome to me, it is much more troublesome because they’ve involved my wife and three daughters,” he added.

Fauci said he feared that the threats against public health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic would serve as a “powerful disincentive” for the best and brightest candidates to take up the profession.

“They say to themselves, ‘I don’t want to go there. Why should I get involved in that?’” he said.

“They’re reluctant to put themselves and their family through what they see their colleagues being put through,” he testified.