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Republicans poised to grill Anthony Fauci over COVID-19 response, origins

Written by on June 3, 2024

Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci testifies during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of House Appropriations Committee at Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill May 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. — Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE

(WASHINGTON) — House Republicans are poised to grill Dr. Anthony Fauci at a hearing on Monday as lawmakers continue to scrutinize his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and examine theories of the origin of the virus.

Ahead of the hearing, House Republicans requested access to Fauci’s personal email account and cellphone records after obtaining information they claim calls into question whether the nation’s former top infectious disease expert may have tried to keep some records out of the public eye.

Fauci previously proclaimed that he has “nothing to hide” and is coming before the panel voluntarily. It will mark the first time he’s publicly testified since he left the federal government at the end of 2022 after five decades of service.

Fauci’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes amid a contentious election cycle, with Republicans continuing to hammer him on his response to the virus — everything from mask mandates to vaccine guidelines and origin possibilities.

Despite Fauci’s outsized and public role from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, is now contending Fauci “wasn’t a big player in my administration” as Fauci becomes a political lightning rod and a potential liability for Democrats ahead of this fall’s presidential contest.

The latest attack on Fauci comes from Republicans on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, who cite “new evidence” they say warrants further scrutiny: an email exchange between a former Fauci senior adviser and an executive of a virus research organization where the adviser claims Fauci’s private Gmail account could be utilized to evade Freedom of Information Act and future public scrutiny.

Dr. David Morens, the Fauci aide, advised EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak that Fauci may accept printed copies of documents if Daszak didn’t want them tracked for the public record — although it’s not clear if Fauci ever had any involvement.

Records show that Morens himself used his private Gmail account to shield information from FOIA’s reach, including to send Daszak official government documents and a heads-up about information that would become public through a FOIA request pertaining to EcoHealth Alliance grant materials and COVID-19 research.

EcoHealth Alliance is a U.S.-based organization — described as a “virus-hunting group” — that conducts research and outreach programs and global health, conservation and international development, according to its website.

Republicans say the alliance facilitated gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China, without proper oversight; willingly violated multiple requirements of its multi-million dollar National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant; and, apparently, made false statements to the NIH.

The House select subcommittee released a report alleging wrongdoing there and the formal debarment of EcoHealth and Daszak. Health and Human Services has subsequently suspended U.S. funding to the organization, which totaled about $2.6 million last year.

Morens testified behind closed doors for transcribed interviews before the subcommittee on Jan 18., and later produced an additional 30,000 pages of documents pursuant to a subpoena before testifying publicly on May 22.

The panel subsequently released a staff memorandum it argues “presents overwhelming evidence” from Morens’s email revealing misconduct and potentially illegal actions. The memo included previously unreleased emails, obtained by subpoena, that Republicans believe incriminates Morens by showing he undermined the operations of the U.S. government, unlawfully deleted federal COVID-19 records and used personal email to avoid FOIA.

Considering Morens was a close adviser to Fauci, Republicans on the subcommittee expressed concern that Fauci had knowledge of his conduct and questioned whether Fauci potentially engaged in any misconduct himself.

The request pertaining to Fauci’s personal records specifies that the subcommittee is seeking access to all documents and communications related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, EcoHealth, and the origins of COVID-19 retained in Dr. Fauci’s personal email and cellphone records.

Fauci previously sat for closed-door, transcribed interviews with the panel for 14 hours on Jan. 8 and 9 — before the latest records from Morens were combed through by the panel.

Fauci served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, serving as a scientific check to Trump during the pandemic and later as President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor before retiring in 2022.

“Retirement from public service does not excuse Dr. Fauci from accountability to the American people,” chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, noted in a statement announcing the hearing. “On June 3, Americans will have an opportunity to hear directly from Dr. Fauci about his role in overseeing our nation’s pandemic response, shaping pandemic-era policies, and promoting singular, questionable narratives about the origins of COVID-19.”

Fauci, 83, is set to publish his memoir, entitled “ON CALL: A Doctor’s Journey in Public Service,” on June 18. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2008 for his work on AIDS relief in Africa.

In addition to hearing from Fauci, the Select Subcommittee announced former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky will publicly testify on June 13 as Republicans seek to learn about her knowledge of CDC policies and decisions during the pandemic.

Cheyenne Haslett and Lalee Ibsaa contributed to this report.

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