Skip to content

Fauci faces skeptical GOP to bat back COVID-19 accusations

Infectious diseases doctor faces questions on use of email, COVID-19 origins

Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Coronavirus Pandemic hearing titled “A Hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci,” in Rayburn building on Monday, June 3, 2024.
Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Coronavirus Pandemic hearing titled “A Hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci,” in Rayburn building on Monday, June 3, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Longtime government scientist Anthony Fauci pushed back against Republican accusations tying him to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic while testifying before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Monday.  

In his first appearance before Congress since he retired in December 2022, Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sought to defend himself from GOP accusations that he tried to cover up the origins of COVID-19 and used his personal email for official government work.

He said the idea that he sought to cover up a theory that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, was “simply preposterous” and emphatically told the subcommittee that “I do not do government business on my private email.”

The subcommittee has been investigating the origins of the virus and the government’s potential involvement for 15 months, but do not appear to have found anything connecting Fauci to the start of the virus in China. However, their investigation did lead to the federal government last month recommending EcoHealth Alliance, a company that received federal funding and that worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, be debarred.

During a contentious hearing frequently interrupted by protesters, Republican subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup accused Fauci of covering up the origins of the virus and trying to dissuade people that the virus came from a lab. 

While the origins of the virus remain unknown despite multiple investigations, one theory is that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, and somehow leaked from that lab, creating the global pandemic.

Fauci denied Wenstrup’s accusations, pointing to emails he sent in February 2022, when his colleagues first floated the idea that the virus could have had lab origins and Fauci immediately instructed his colleagues to elevate those concerns to the highest levels.

“It is inconceivable that anyone who reads this email could conclude that I was trying to cover up the possibility of a laboratory leak,” Fauci said, adding, “I always kept an open mind to the different possibilities.”

Emails 

Republicans also seized on claims that Fauci used his personal email for official business, which would violate the agency’s code of conduct.

The 83-year-old immunologist told the subcommittee that “to the best of my knowledge I have never conducted official business using my personal email.”      

Lawmakers also grilled Fauci on allegations that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak did not keep up with reporting and monitoring requirements around experiments conducted in Wuhan, China, and omitted key information in applying for federal grants.

“I repeat on the record that I am not trying to protect Daszak,” Fauci told Wenstrup. 

Last month, the subcommittee sought testimony from David Morens, a top NIAID official, who used his personal email to communicate with Daszak and others involved in the COVID-19 origins debate.  

Fauci said he did not engage in that email exchange, but Republicans were skeptical that he was unaware of their communication.

“I have a hard time believing that all of this occurred without your knowledge and approval,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said of Morens’ effort to obscure the Freedom of Information Act and hide his correspondence with Daszak.

The Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee’s top Democrat Kathy Castor, D-Fla., accused Republicans of playing into political conspiracy theories and purposefully smearing Fauci for political gain.

She used the hearing to advocate for lawmakers to reauthorize the expired pandemic preparedness law, which lapsed on Sept. 30 of last year. In the last few months U.S. public health agencies have been tracking a new strain of bird flu as well as continuing to monitor COVID-19.

‘He’s not a doctor’

During one of the more contentious moments in the hearing, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene accused Fauci of not being a real doctor, telling the panel he belonged in prison. 

Her remarks caused panel leadership to pause the hearing and remind members to be respectful. Wenstrup told the panel that he instructed Greene to refer to Fauci as a doctor to which Greene replied, “he’s not a doctor!”

Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., then held up signs of Greene’s previous statements in which the lawmaker said she didn’t believe in evolution and that she was sure COVID-19 was created in a lab in an attempt to paint Greene as a conspiracy theorist.

Garcia lost both of his parents to COVID-19 and said he takes the origins of the virus very seriously, but argued that conspiracy theorists have obfuscated efforts to find the truth.

Democrats, however, were also quick to fire rhetorical shots. 

“Some of our colleagues in the House of Representatives are treating you, Dr. Fauci, like a convicted felon,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said. 

Alluding to former President Donald Trump, he added, “Actually, you probably wish they were treating you like a convicted felon. They treat convicted felons with love and admiration. Some of them blindly worship convicted felons.”

A few Republicans tried to unsuccessfully back Fauci into a corner.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York repeatedly asked Fauci how many royalties he’s earned from pharmaceutical companies since the start of the pandemic. Fauci replied that he’s received about $100 from a monoclonal antibody he developed 25 years ago.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., accused Fauci of suppressing the lab leak theory, and said the panel had the emails to prove it. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., interjected to say the panel has no such emails.

Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell highlighted the harassment Fauci and his family have received since this investigation started. Fauci detailed the death threats and stalking he’s received, and now it’s at the point where he must always have protective services. His voice broke  when he described the threats to his three daughters.     

The audience was an active participant in Monday’s hearing as well. Many activists showed up, at least one wearing a “Fire Fauci” T-shirt. One protester who said she was a doctor interrupted the hearing so many times, accusing the National Institutes of Health of covering up the origins of the virus, that she had to be escorted from the room by Capitol Police.

Recent Stories

Biden rules issued from now on vulnerable to repeal if he loses

Wyden wants more Medicaid funding to keep obstetric units open

Supreme Court’s redistricting decision could hurt map challengers

Does Joe Biden need a miracle or just a bit of good luck?

Graves decides not to run after Louisiana district redrawn

Garland won’t face contempt of Congress charge over Biden audio