Dr. Anthony Fauci gave Sen. Rand Paul a stern dressing-down Tuesday morning, telling the Kentucky Republican that he was misinterpreting information in a scientific paper to accuse the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funding controversial coronavirus research.
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about, OK?” said Fauci, who has helmed the NIH for more than 35 years.
The heated response came during a Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus Crisis hearing ― the site of Fauci’s last verbal clash with the conservative senator. In May, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease told Paul he was “entirely and completely incorrect” on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Paul once again focused his questioning on China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of the pandemic, which are still murky.
Paul used a 2017 scientific paper to argue that not only was the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducting controversial “gain of function” research on coronaviruses, but it was doing so with taxpayer funds from the NIAID. “Gain of function” refers to research on how viruses could become more transmissible in human beings; its scientific value is debated. If Paul’s claim were true, and it was determined that the virus somehow originated at the Wuhan lab, it could mean Fauci ― who quickly became a GOP bogeyman in the coronavirus era ― might shoulder some blame for the deadly crisis.
Paul lashed out at Fauci in the hearing, telling him: “You’re trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people around the world dying from a pandemic.”
The Republican senator, however, had misinterpreted the scientific paper he held up as evidence, Fauci told him.
“This paper that you are referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function,” Fauci stated clearly before being interrupted repeatedly by Paul.
“I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator,” Fauci said, adding that Paul’s implied accusation was “molecularly impossible.”
“I want everyone to understand that if you look at those viruses, and that’s judged by qualified virologists and evolutionary biologists, those viruses are molecularly impossible to result in SARS-CoV-2,” Fauci said.
He concluded: “You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that, and if anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.”
Later on Tuesday, Paul used the viral moment to ask for donations. He accused Fauci of “lies and obfuscations” in a tweet that included a two-minute video of the senator speaking, with none of Fauci’s response.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has drawn international interest because it conducts research on bat coronaviruses in the same Chinese province where COVID-19 was first documented. The virus was initially suspected to have jumped to humans from infected animals at a wildlife market in Wuhan, but that explanation fails to account for the individuals with no connection to the market who caught the virus before it started circulating widely.
The pandemic’s origins are under investigation by authorities in the United States and by the World Health Organization, but it could be years before a consensus is reached.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article erroneously referred to Dr. Fauci as the director of the National Institutes of Health. He leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.