Top House Republicans argue that emails and other evidence show that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and are calling on its director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to explain his repeated sworn testimony to the contrary.
Earlier this month, Sen. Rand Paul requested Attorney General Merrick Garland to start a criminal investigation of Fauci over his Senate testimony, during which he said the National Institutes of Health never funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. The Kentucky Republican says that is a lie, while Fauci insists the NIH grants did not fund gain-of-function research.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top GOP member on the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to Fauci this week, noting he hadn’t responded to a similar June letter from them about testimony in May and arguing that his July testimony only raised more questions. Jordan and Comer said, “New emails make this recurring testimony even more concerning and show a closer relationship between NIAID and the WIV than previously known.”
Jordan and Comer contended that the NIAID “funded gain-of-function research at the WIV and this research did not go through the proper oversight.” They told Fauci that “it is unclear why you would continue to testify otherwise.” They pointed to recently released emails to make their case.
The Republicans cited a Feb. 1, 2020, email from Fauci to the deputy director of the NIAID, Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, which included an attached research article published in 2015 in Nature Medicine titled “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronavirus shows potential for human emergence” that was “primarily authored” by Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wuhan lab “bat lady” Dr. Li-Zhengli Shi, with the paper acknowledging the Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Jordan and Comer noted that “the paper was funded by NIAID grant U19AI107810” and that both “Baric and Shi acknowledge this.”
Jordan and Comer stated: “This work was gain-of-function research. There is no need to conduct a scientific analysis of this paper to determine whether or not it constituted gain-of-function; you state it in your email to Dr. Auchincloss and it states it in the paper itself.”
The attachment line of Fauci’s email to Auchincloss was “Baric, Shi et al — Nature medicine — SARS Gain of Function.pdf,” and the subject line was “IMPORTANT.”
Fauci’s message had a tone of urgency, saying, “Hugh: It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on. I have a conference call at 7:45 AM with [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex] Azar. It likely will be over at 8:45 AM. Read this paper as well as the e-mail that I will forward to you now. You will have tasks today that must be done. Thanks, Tony.”
The Republicans noted the paper said its “experiments with the full-length and chimeric SHC014 recombinant viruses were initiated and performed before the GOF [gain-of-function] research funding pause and have since been reviewed and approved for continued study by the NIH.”
The Republicans said “this work did not go through proper oversight” and argued Baric and Shi “claimed their gain-of-function research conducted with American taxpayer dollars at the Wuhan lab” was given the green light by the NIH, noting that the paper itself said it was “reviewed and approved for continued study by the NIH.”
But Jordan and Comer said Auchincloss “disagrees” with that, pointing to a Feb. 1, 2020, email response from him to Fauci that read, “The paper you sent me says the experiments were performed before the gain of function pause but have since been reviewed and approved by NIH. Not sure what that means since Emily is sure that no Coronavirus work [has] gone through the P3 framework.” Although “Emily” is not identified, Emily Erbelding, the director of the NIH’s division of microbiology and infectious diseases, is mentioned in dozens of Fauci emails. Auchincloss continued, “She will try to determine if we have any distant ties to this work abroad.”
After a pause in 2014, HHS announced the creation of the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Framework in 2017, which was ostensibly set up to review any grants that might involve gain-of-function research, but the 2019 renewal of the EcoHealth Alliance grants was not subjected to the P3CO review.
Jordan and Comer argued the statement from Auchincloss “directly refutes” the claims by Baric and Shi “and raises serious questions as to who approved dangerous gain-of-function research to take place in the WIV.”
During a Senate hearing in May, Paul pointed to the work between Baric and Shi as evidence of U.S. support for gain-of-function research in China.
Fauci replied: “Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
He added: “Dr. Baric is not doing gain-of-function research, and if it is, it is according to the guidelines, and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not in China.”
Paul pointed to NIH grants going to EcoHealth, which then provided funding to the Wuhan lab that a Trump State Department fact sheet contended carried out secretive gain-of-function experiments and worked with China’s military.
NIH’s RePORTER website said the agency provided $15.2 million to Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence. Daszak maintained a long working relationship with Shi, sending her lab at least $600,000 in NIH funding. Daszak was part of the WHO-China team that dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year.
The acknowledgments section of the paper cites grants from the National Institute of Aging at NIH and USAID PREDICT funding from EcoHealth, also stating that “human airway epithelial cultures were supported by” the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH. The National Natural Science Foundation of China also provided funding.
The paper by Shi, Baric, and others seemed to acknowledge the risks posed by these experiments and whether the “value of the data generated” outweighed the “inherent risks involved.”
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