Fauci denies COVID origin‘cover-up’, defends action

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WASHINGTON, June 4, (AP): Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert until leaving the government in 2022, was back before Congress on Monday, calling “simply preposterous” Republican allegations that he’d tried to cover up origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. A GOP-led subcommittee has spent over a year probing the nation’s response to the pandemic and whether US-funded research in China may have played any role in how it started – yet found no evidence linking Fauci to wrongdoing. He’d already been grilled behind closed doors, for 14 hours over two days in January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

But Monday, Fauci testified voluntarily in public and on camera at a hearing that quickly deteriorated into partisan attacks. Republicans repeated unproven accusations against the longtime National Institutes of Health scientist while Democrats apologized for Congress besmirching his name and bemoaned a missed opportunity to prepare for the next scary outbreak. “He is not a comic book super villain,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., saying the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic had failed to prove a list of damaging allegations.

Fauci was the public face of the government’s early COVID-19 response under then-President Donald Trump and later as an adviser to President Joe Biden. A trusted voice to millions, he also was the target of partisan anger and choked up Monday as he recalled death threats and other harassment of himself and his family, threats he said still continue. Police later escorted hecklers out of the hearing room. The main issue: Many scientists believe the virus most likely emerged in nature and jumped from animals to people, probably at a wildlife market in Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak began.

There’s no new scientific information supporting that the virus might instead have leaked from a laboratory. A U.S. intelligence analysis says there’s insufficient evidence to prove either way — and a recent Associated Press investigation found the Chinese government froze critical efforts to trace the source of the virus in the first weeks of the outbreak. Fauci has long said publicly that he was open to both theories but that there’s more evidence supporting COVID-19’s natural origins, the way other deadly viruses including coronavirus cousins SARS and MERS jumped into people.

It was a position he repeated Monday as Republican lawmakers questioned if he worked behind-the-scenes to squelch the lableak theory or even tried to influence intelligence agencies. “I have repeatedly stated that I have a completely open mind to either possibility and that if definitive evidence becomes available to validate or refute either theory, I will ready accept it,” Fauci said. He later invoked a fictional secret agent, decrying a conspiracy theory that “I was parachuting into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak.”

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