A group of Republican lawmakers have called on White House Covid-19 advisor Anthony Fauci to testify on the origins of the pandemic, also demanding a briefing on US funding for potentially dangerous research into coronaviruses.
Reps. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and James Comer (R-Kentucky) penned a letter to two Democratic committee heads on Thursday, saying it is “imperative” that Fauci give testimony about “the origins of the novel coronavirus” as well as “the US government’s role in funding research” that may have contributed to creating the pathogen.
“The American people have a right to know what our government knew about the origins of the pandemic and when it was known,” they said, calling on the Democrats to “immediately convene hearings to examine the origins of Covid-19, the possibility that it leaked from a [Chinese Communist Party]-controlled laboratory, and any involvement of US taxpayer funds.”
Addressed to Reps. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and Carolyn Maloney, (D-New York), who chair the House Covid-19 and Oversight Committees, respectively, the letter comes after a massive trove of Fauci’s emails were released to Buzzfeed and the Washington Post in a FOIA disclosure. The two Republicans also called for complete, unredacted versions of the messages, parts of which were censored before they were made public.
Though the emails were published on Tuesday, the White House made no comment on the trove until Thursday afternoon, at which point press secretary Jen Psaki suggested the documents contain nothing of interest.
“It’s obviously not that advantageous for me to relitigate the substance of emails from 17 months ago,” she said, adding that she would allow Fauci to speak for himself.
In a separate letter also sent on Thursday, two other GOP reps. – Mike Waltz (Florida) and Frank Lucas (Oklahoma) – asked the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to provide a briefing on the agency’s role in probing the origins of Covid-19, as well as on “federally funded gain-of-function (GOF) research.”
GOF research aims to increase the virulence and lethality of viruses so that scientists can better understand them, but some experts argue the work risks unleashing highly infectious pathogens into the world. In 2014, the US government banned GOF research over safety concerns, but lifted the pause in 2019, allowing US-based labs to resume their projects.
Waltz and Lucas pointed to a multi-million dollar US government grant to the EcoHealth Alliance – a research organization which passed nearly $600,000 of that money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study coronaviruses – asking whether the Chinese lab may have carried out the controversial research.
While National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins recently told lawmakers he doesn’t know of any US-funded GOF work at the Wuhan lab, he acknowledged that it may have conducted research “outside of what our approved grant allowed.”
“This statement amongst a litany of mounting evidence raises legitimate concerns regarding the safety and security of federally funded research to the [Wuhan Institute of Virology],” the two lawmakers said of Collins’ testimony.
Though the World Health Organization maintains that it is “extremely unlikely” Covid-19 escaped from the Wuhan lab, instead arguing it passed from animals to humans naturally, some administration officials have left open the possibility of a lab leak. Ex-CDC director Robert Redfield, meanwhile, has all but endorsed the theory, saying he believes it is the most likely explanation for the outbreak.
Asking for a briefing by June 30, Waltz and Lucas called on the White House science body to explain its role in reviewing the origins of the pandemic, as well as whether it is investigating the “merit” and “safety” of US-funded research in Wuhan. They also asked if a “risk assessment” would be conducted on GOF work, and whether the administration will review all GOF-related grants between 2014 and the present.