Fauci set for fiery hearing with House GOP

Anthony Fauci, the public face of the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, will provide his first congressional testimony in nearly two years Monday before a Republican Party-led committee that is likely to grill him over alleged misconduct that occurred under his leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Fauci, director of NIAID for nearly four decades, will testify before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. It is his first testimony since he left government work at the end of 2022.

The last time he testified before Congress was in September 2022, when he appeared before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to discuss the response to the MPOX response along with other health officials.

Fauci returned to the Capitol earlier this year for two days of closed-door interviews with the subcommittee. Transcripts of those all-day interviews were published Friday ahead of the hearing.

His testimony follows two highly contentious hearings before the subcommittee that raised questions about the level of oversight and conduct within his agency, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that elevated him to public prominence.

Here's what you need to know before you face a difficult hearing.

Controversy over public records

Fauci is likely to face tough questions from Republicans about what he knew about the efforts of another NIAID official accused of circumventing public records laws.

Over the past month, the select subcommittee took testimony from Peter Daszak, chairman of the EcoHealth Alliance, and David Morens, a senior adviser to the NIAID director who worked closely with Fauci.

Morens' testimony did little to endear Republicans to Fauci. Previously published emails from Morens suggested that Fauci was aware of misconduct in public records at NIAID and was trying to extricate himself from it.

In an email exchange with Daszak, Morens wrote: “…there are no concerns about FOIAs. I can send stuff to Tony via his private gmail, or hand it over to him at work or at his home. He is too smart to let colleagues direct things that could cause problems.”

In another email, Morens told Daszak that Fauci wanted to protect EcoHealth from criticism, although he indicated in other emails that the former NIAID director was not particularly involved with National Institutes of Health grants. Morens testified before the subcommittee that Fauci made no comment when asked in a conversation between them whether he had a hand in eliminating a subsidy for EcoHealth.

Speaking to The Hill, subcommittee chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) questioned whether Fauci's leadership as NIAID director played a role in Morens' behavior.

“Under Dr. Fauci we see Dr. Daszak of EcHealth Alliance and Dr. David Morens and their willingness to deceive. And you know, they seem to be without scruples.

Morens came up sporadically during Fauci's interview in January, although the majority of questions had to do with whether Fauci dictated how Morens could communicate with the press. Fauci said he was leaving these issues to the NIAID press office.

Democrats have routinely accused GOP members of trying to shift blame for the pitfalls of the pandemic response to public health officials like Fauci.

A partisan hearing

Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee plan to approach the hearing from different angles.

Wenstrup said he plans to ask questions about the grant process, whether Fauci was aware of Morens' communications with Daszak and would continue to pressure the former administration official over what he said was the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic .

“I think we have to ask ourselves whether he thinks it's a good process or not. And I would like to hear what he thinks we should do going forward as he was involved in what I believe are mistakes or a misguided process,” he said. “Maybe we will hear from him how we can do better in the future.”

During his January interview, Fauci repeatedly said he didn't remember certain details, although this was often in response to particularly detailed questions or that he remembered talking to certain people. Fauci himself seemed to anticipate how this would reflect on him.

“I think this is about 'Fauci said so many times he can't remember,' but I can't remember,” he said during the second day of interviews.

Wenstrup said he hoped Fauci's memory had improved in the months since his interview.

“But I think there are a lot of things that he said he didn't remember, and it's probably in his best interest not to remember them,” Wenstrup said. “I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me this could be legal advice.”

Democratic committee member Deborah Ross (NC) said she plans to ask what public health guidance Fauci can provide.

“I'll be focusing a lot on what public health has learned, how we can make things better, how we can move forward in communicating with the community,” Ross said.

Asked if she believes Fauci's testimony will be worthwhile given the wide-ranging interview he gave several months ago, Ross said, “It would be worthwhile if we could work together toward a common goal.” But I don't think it's worth attacking a public health official who did everything he could for public health at the time.”

Fauci's interviews

Transcripts of Fauci's interview with the select subcommittee in January were released Friday, providing a glimpse into the veteran scientist's thoughts on the pandemic and his time as the nation's top health adviser. Since leaving NIAID, Fauci has avoided interviews and public comments.

In his interview, he reiterated that he was open to both natural origins and lab leak theories about the virus, but that given current scientific evidence, he was leaning toward natural origins.

He also reiterated his position that federal funding has not reached the Wuhan Institute of Virology to support gain-of-function research, which increases the transmissibility of a pathogen to predict how it may mutate in the future.

Fauci said that due to the “strict definition” of what “gain-of-function” research is – an experiment designed to “increase the transmissibility and/or pathogenesis of a [potential pandemic pathogen]” – he did not believe that gain-of-function research was funded by US grants.

He also briefly discussed how past congressional testimony affected him and his family.

Asked about the threats he received during the pandemic, Fauci asked for a “timeout for a second” and the interview went off the record. When the interview became official again, he linked the threats and intimidation he received during the pandemic to previous testimony.

“Every time Senator Rand Paul stands up and says I'm responsible for the deaths of 4 million people, the death threats go off the wall, the threats against me, my wife and my children go off the wall,” he said.

Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had numerous heated arguments during Senate hearings during the pandemic. In a 2022 hearingFauci accused Paul of “twisting everything about me,” adding, “You just do the same thing every time.”

“I don't want to talk about it too much because I don't want to understand it,” Fauci added. “But it was constant threats against me, my wife and my children, calling them and saying, I have three daughters, you know, they were 28, 31 and 33 at the time. I don't know how they got their phone number come, but I call them up and tell them, 'We know where you live, we know where you work,' and very, very aggressive, violent, sexually explicit threats against them and against my wife. ”

Fauci is scheduled to testify before the subcommittee on Monday at 10 a.m. EDT.

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