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Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the White House press briefing to speak about the coronavirus on Tuesday, November 22, 2022. (Tom Williams via Getty Images)

Anthony Fauci’s Deceptions

A trove of emails, Slack messages, and other documents reveal Fauci’s behind-the-scenes involvement. ‘Tony doesn't want his fingerprints on origin stories.’

On April 17, 2020, with much of the country still in some form of lockdown and news of overwhelmed hospitals dominating the headlines, Dr. Anthony Fauci, then a member of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, was asked a question toward the end of a White House press briefing: Was there a possibility that this novel virus came from a lab in Wuhan, China?

“There was a study recently,” Fauci said confidently, “where a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists looked at the sequences there and the sequences in bats as they evolve, and the mutations that it took to get to where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” In other words, it wasn’t from the lab.

This moment set the template for much that would follow from Fauci over the next three years. That is, evasion, deception, and misdirection about his support of high-risk virology research and its connection to the possibility that a lab leak in Wuhan caused a worldwide catastrophe.

Fauci, who was the face of the public health community during the crisis, pushed the idea that the evidence strongly indicated that the virus was just a tragic, natural occurrence. He insisted, repeatedly, that an epidemic that started in Wuhan was unlikely to have been the result of an escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). 

But Fauci had an incentive to arrive at his conclusion about the deadly pandemic that started in Wuhan. The WIV was known for doing high-risk virology research studying and manipulating coronaviruses. Fauci, as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for almost 40 years, had funded such research at the WIV.

Fauci’s posture—dismissive toward the theory of the lab leak, and later, condescending toward those who entertained it—set what became the accepted narrative about the origins of the pandemic. It was a narrative that was parroted by the government, public health officials, and the media, and even enforced by social media platforms at the request of the Biden White House.

But last month, a trove of explosive emails and other documents were released by the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. These revealed evidence of Fauci’s and other officials’ behind-the-scenes involvement with scientists and journalists, demonstrating their efforts to quash the lab leak theory.

The recently disclosed private communications, first reported by Public and Racket, lay bare that the “highly qualified” authors of the paper that Fauci had asserted in April 2020 likely disproved a lab leak—what became known informally as the “Proximal Origin” paper—actually had extensive uncertainty about the virus being the result of a natural event. This was grossly at odds with what became their published position.

The paper that Fauci recommended was published on March 17, 2020. But in February, just the month before, Kristian Andersen, one of the paper’s authors, wrote a Slack message to his colleagues saying: “[T]he lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario.” 

Robert Garry, another co-author, wrote on Slack the same month: “It’s not crackpot to suggest this could have happened, given the Gain of Function research we know is happening.” Ian Lipkin, yet another co-author, emailed on February 11 that there was the “possibility of inadvertent release. . . at the institute in Wuhan. Given the scale of bat CoV research pursued there and the site of emergence of first human cases we have a nightmare of circumstantial evidence to assess.” 

These are but a few examples of their correspondence. 

Contrary to Fauci’s seeming objectivity about the paper, according to documents released by the House subcommittee, in February 2020 Fauci, along with Francis Collins, then head of the National Institutes of Health (which oversees NIAID), took part in a conference call with a number of scientists, including several of the paper’s authors, prompting them to begin work on what would ultimately be the Proximal Origin paper. 

On March 6, as the paper was headed toward publication, the virologists had changed their minds about the distinct possibility that the virus came out of the Wuhan lab. Andersen wrote to Fauci, Collins, and Jeremy Farrar, then a health advisor to the British government and director of the Wellcome Trust, an influential public health organization. He thanked them for their “advice and leadership as we have been working through the SARS-CoV-2 ‘origins’ paper.” Fauci replied two days later, telling Andersen, “Nice job on the paper.” 

Indeed, Fauci and Collins were so closely involved with the paper that in internal communications among the paper’s five authors they referred to the pair as the “Bethesda Boys” (a reference to NIH headquarters, in Bethesda, Maryland).

At the time of the paper’s drafting, which went on at least from February through early March, when it was accepted by the journal Nature Medicine, Andersen had an $8.9 million grant under review by NIAID. The grant was approved in May.

We may never learn how the pandemic began, considering that the Wuhan Institute of Virology—an institute funded in part by U.S. taxpayers—deleted data about the virus, and given the secrecy of the Chinese Communist Party. But instead of offering evenhanded leadership that encouraged scientists to present alternative perspectives on this and many other issues that arose during the pandemic, Fauci pushed a biased view. Scientists who raised concerns and questions about our Covid-19 response were regularly demonized, even by a government official directly under Fauci’s charge. 

If you want to understand why there has been such a collapse of trust in our public health leaders, this story is a good place to start.

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team arrive by car at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Hector Retamal via Getty Images)

During his decades as head of NIAID, Fauci oversaw the distribution of billions of dollars each year in research grants and contracts, some of which were awarded explicitly for what is commonly referred to as “gain-of-function research of concern.” This research involves manipulating viruses to become more transmissible and/or deadly in humans, with the hope that doing so might help advance development of vaccines and therapeutics against threats that don’t exist but theoretically might in the future. 

As I previously reported in The Free Press, it is an intensely controversial practice, with many scientists vehemently opposed to it. Kevin M. Esvelt, an evolutionary and ecological engineer at MIT, wrote in a 2021 opinion piece: “I implore every scientist, funder, and nation working in this field: Please stop.” Purposefully creating a pathogen that could wipe out millions of people—regardless of its hoped-for benefit—is “insanity,” global security and biodefense expert Dr. Laura Kahn told me.

Fauci has long been a vocal advocate for this type of research. And, despite pleas for it to stop, for at least a decade this dangerous research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and NIAID. This connection was affirmed by Fauci, and is documented in published papers: NIH and NIAID are listed as financiers of the project in the acknowledgements of the most infamous gain-of-function study in history. 

And I have documented that at least several NIH/NIAID-funded studies were involved in potentially creating more deadly coronaviruses. 

There is no ambiguity: the NIH and NIAID have funded and supported this work. Yet Fauci, and his then-boss Collins, during the Covid years, repeatedly obscured and even outright denied their involvement. 

In May 2021, Collins released a statement that said:

Neither NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported “gain-of-function” research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans.

Why would Collins put out a statement denying what is clearly true? In a word: Wuhan.

Though complex, the facts here are unequivocal. The NIH gave millions of dollars to a nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance. From that pot of money, EcoHealth funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in sub-awards to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Grant applications to NIH from EcoHealth explicitly spell out work involving the creation of deadlier or more transmissible pathogens. It said the researchers would use infectious clone technology and humanized mice (i.e., rodents that are engineered to have human receptors for viruses) to test the ability of newly created coronaviruses to infect humans.

Yet in November 2021, when Senator Rand Paul questioned Fauci in a Congressional hearing about his funding of this research and its connection to the WIV, Fauci responded “gain-of-function is a very nebulous term” and that a considerable amount of effort had been spent “to give a more precise definition to the type of research that is of concern that might lead to a dangerous situation.” Paul shot back, “You’re defining away gain-of-function. You’re simply saying it doesn’t exist because you changed the definition on the NIH website!”

Richard Ebright—a major critic of gain-of-function research of concern and a molecular biologist at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University—says, along with others, that Fauci engaged in semantic games to evade acknowledging the dangerous research he helped fund. (Fauci did not respond to multiple requests for comment made to his new employer, Georgetown University.) 

This July, the House subcommittee released what appears to be an extremely incriminating email that Fauci had written on February 1, 2020, to multiple high-level officials, including Francis Collins. In the email Fauci wrote “scientists in Wuhan University are known to have been working on gain-of-function experiments” on bat viruses, and that there was “suspicion” that mutations seen in SARS-CoV-2 were not natural and were “intentionally inserted.” After viewing the email, Rand Paul referred Fauci to the Department of Justice for lying to Congress.

Evidence of Fauci’s purposeful evasiveness can also be seen through the actions of a direct subordinate. Two months after Collins denied funding gain-of-function research, David Morens, a senior advisor to the director of the NIAID—at the time, Fauci—wrote in an email to Bloomberg reporter Jason Gale: “Tony doesn't want his fingerprints on origin stories.” In the email, Morens said he was tasked with speaking to reporters on behalf of Fauci about the origins of the virus. Later, in an interview with National Geographic, published September 2021, Morens, like Fauci, was careful to say all possibilities should be pursued, yet in the next breath said the point may already have been reached that continuing to look into a lab leak was “wasting time and being crazy.” 

Other Morens emails reveal how he called Richard Ebright and other scientists who have been critical of Fauci—and who believe a lab leak was likely—“harmful demogogues [sic]” who lacked integrity, and that they need to be called out, which Morens said he had done “again and again”—but only off the record since he’s in government. 

In September 2021, Morens emailed Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance: “I try to always communicate on gmail because my NIH email is FOIA’d constantly.” The Morens email—a bald admission of deliberately attempting to avoid public records requests, in violation of NIH policy—continued: “Yesterday my gmail was hacked, probably by these GOF assholes, and until IT can get it fixed I may have to occasionally email from my NIH account.”

Fauci’s deceptions regarding gain-of-function research and the Wuhan lab are of a piece with his approach to other embroilments during the pandemic. He consistently dismissed those who questioned his recommendations as being unworthy of serious consideration, and sidestepped and double-talked his way out of responsibility for past statements.  

Infamously, when asked about his critics, Fauci said, “[T]hey’re really criticizing science because I represent science. That’s dangerous.” When, in the fall of 2020, a group of public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford advocated for focusing protection against Covid-19 on the elderly and vulnerable and letting the rest of society operate more normally, Collins, in an email to Fauci, referred to them as “fringe epidemiologists,” and said there needed to be a “devastating takedown” of their approach. A week later, Fauci began publicly dismissing this approach as “dangerous” and “nonsense,” a characterization that the media repeated ad infinitum, falsely branding it as a “let ’er rip” philosophy. 

Fauci today persists in professing he’s had a dispassionate view on the origin of the virus all along. But as research has continued into the virus’s origins, the evidence is increasingly pointing to a lab leak. In February, a report by the Department of Energy concluded that a lab leak was the most likely origin of the virus. This echoed a similar conclusion from the FBI. In March, in an interview on CNN, Fauci offered a creative scenario for how what appears to be a lab leak is actually a natural occurrence. “A lab leak could be that someone was out in the wild, maybe looking for different types of viruses in bats, got infected, went into a lab, and was being studied in a lab and then it came out of the lab,” Fauci said. “If that’s the definition of a lab leak, then that still is a natural occurrence.” 

In May 2021, when questioned in a Senate hearing about the potential of dangerous research taking place at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in conflict with NIH agreements, Fauci said, “We generally always trust the grantee to do what they say.” He said the Chinese researchers were “competent, trustworthy scientists.” This July, however, the Department of Health and Human Services halted all funds to the WIV on the grounds that “there is risk that WIV not only previously violated, but is currently violating, and will continue to violate, protocols of the NIH on biosafety” and that “immediate action is necessary to protect the public interest.”

Fauci had promised the public that the WIV could be trusted. The fact that HHS disagreed—and decided to cut off funding—is a striking refutation of Fauci’s judgment. These new documents show that this is of a piece with a deeply troubling pattern.

David Zweig is the author of Invisibles and the forthcoming book An Abundance of Caution. For more of his journalism, subscribe to his Substack.

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