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After being verbally pummeled by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during a Senate hearing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci rushed off to talk about the senator behind his back, and in doing so, he slipped up in an interesting way.
During an interview that afternoon with the fact-challenged “fact-checker” PolitiFact, the top White House medical advisor and National Institutes of Health director called Paul’s line of questioning “preposterous.”
“That’s actually preposterous. It was just unfortunate that he said that. It was said in an accusatory way that just made no sense and was not based on any fact at all,” he claimed.
He added that the senator’s accusation that the NIH had funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is where some suspect the coronavirus was created and then later leaked from, was “the most ridiculous, majestic leap I’ve ever heard of.”
“In a very minor collaboration, as part of a subcontract of a grant, we had a collaboration with some Chinese commu … uh, Chinese scientists,” he told PolitiFact, admitting that there was at least some veracity to the senator’s claim.
It’s clear he’d almost said Chinese communists, which would have been correct. Yet he changed it a second later. Why?
He then added, “He conflated that … therefore we were involved in creating the virus, which is the most ridiculous, majestic leap I’ve ever heard of.”
Listen from the 11:15 mark below:
(Video: PolitiFact )
During the hearing earlier that morning, Paul accused Fauci of “juicing up” the coronavirus by funding the Wuhan Virology Institute’s “gain-of-function research” and then trying to cover it up so their research wouldn’t be sacrificed.
“Three million people have died from this pandemic, and that should cause us to explore all possibilities. Instead, government authorities, self-interested in continuing gain-of-function research, say there’s nothing to see here,” he said.
Gain-of-research refers to a medical process wherein a known virus or pathogen is “juiced up” and made more dangerous for the purpose of studying it.
“For years, Dr. Ralph Baric, a virologist in the US, has been collaborating with Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Virology Institute, sharing his discoveries about how to create super-viruses. This gain-of-function research has been funded by the NIH,” Paul added.
He then bluntly asked Fauci whether he supports this. This, in turn, set off a heated back-and-forth exchange lasting over seven minutes.
“Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect. The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” the doctor replied.
In an attempt to catch the doctor in a possible lie, the senator then asked whether the NIH funds Dr. Baric’s work.
“Dr. Baric does not do gain-of-function research, and if it is, it’s according to the guidelines and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not in China,” the doctor replied.
Notice how the doctor said “and if it is.” He seemed to subtly set up the possibility that Baric might be conducting gain-of-function research.
This prompted the senator to ask, “You don’t think inserting a bat virus spike protein that he got from the Wuhan Institute into the SARS virus is gain of function?”
“That is not,” Fauci replied.
Rand responded by pointing to the 200+ scientists of the Cambridge Working Group who’ve argued that this sort of research is indeed gain-of-function research, regardless of whether or not the NIH wants to admit as much.
“Well, it is not. If you look at the grant and you look at the progress reports, it is not gain of function, despite the fact that people tweet that, they write about it,” Fauci replied.
In other words, he made the case that the claim is just so-called “misinformation.”
The senator then asked the doctor whether he supports funding the Wuhan Virology Institute’s research.
The doctor said, “We do not send money now to the Wuhan Virology Institute.”
Notice how he used the word “now.” This prompted Paul to reply with a fact-check.
“We did under your tutelage. We were sending it through EcoHealth. It was a sub-agency and a sub-grant. Do you support that the money from NIH that was going to the Wuhan Institute,” he asked.
“Let me explain to you why that was done,” Fauci replied, thus admitting that his agency has in fact funded the institute.
“The SARS-CoV-1 originated in bats in China. It would have been irresponsible of us if we did not investigate the bat viruses and the serology to see who might have been infected in China,” he said.
He forgot to mention that, according to the Washington Examiner, the money funneled to the Wuhan Institute via EcoHealth allegedly wound up being used to conduct “secretive gain-of-function experiments.”
“NIH grants [went] to Peter Daszak’s New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, which then provided some of that funding to the Wuhan lab, which a Trump State Department fact sheet contended carried out secretive gain-of-function experiments,” as reported by the Examiner.
EcoHealth Alliance at one point collaborated with a lab in Wuhan, China, which has recently been at the center of rumors about the origin of the pandemic.
— ASBMB (@ASBMB) May 21, 2020
“Perhaps it would be irresponsible to send it to the Chinese government that we may not be able to trust with this knowledge and with these incredibly dangerous viruses. Government scientists like yourself who favor gain-of-function research maintain the disease arose naturally,” Paul then said, continuing the discussion.
“I don’t favor gain-of-function research in China. You are saying things that are not correct,” Fauci then maintained.
This prompted the senator to note that the doctor does appear to “support it in the US.”
“We have 11 labs doing it, and you have allowed it here. We have a committee to do it, but the committee is granted every exemption,” he said.
“I fully agree that you should investigate where the virus came from. But again, we have not funded gain-of-function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. No matter how many times you say it, it didn’t happen,” Fauci replied.
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