Fauci denies suppressing COVID lab leak theory before US House panel

By Thomson Reuters Jun 3, 2024 | 4:37 PM

By Ahmed Aboulenein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci strongly denied suppressing the theory that COVID-19 originated from a lab leak in China, telling lawmakers he never influenced research on the origins of the virus.

In his first time addressing the allegations publicly since a 14-hour hearing held behind closed doors in January, Fauci also reiterated that he believes the most likely origin of the pandemic was animal-to-human transmission.

“I’ve also been very, very clear, and said multiple times, that I don’t think the concept of there being a lab (leak) is inherently a conspiracy theory,” he said.

“What is conspiracy is the kind of distortions of that particular subject, like it was a lab leak, and I was parachuted into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak,” he told a U.S. House of Representatives panel.

Fauci, who retired in December 2022 after 54 years at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) including 38 serving as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was testifying before the House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The committee, set up to discover the origins of the virus, has uncovered emails showing top NIH officials trying to hide public records by evading Freedom of Information Act requests.

The private emails suggest some officials, including a long-time Fauci adviser and aide, deleted correspondence and used private emails to get around public record laws.

Fauci downplayed how closely he worked with the adviser, David Morens, saying he was unsure if Morens even reported to him directly and that their offices were in different buildings.

He denied ever using a private email address to discuss government business. Morens had told the subcommittee he may have sent emails discussing government business to Fauci’s personal email address.

Fauci said Morens had repeatedly violated NIAID policy and denied ever seeking to avoid a FOIA request.

He also described harassment and death threats he and his family have received after being vilified by many Republican lawmakers over his pandemic stances and championing of COVID vaccines, as well as accusations, without evidence, of being involved in a massive cover up related to the global health crisis.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)