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The Republican-led subcommittee on the COVID-19 pandemic issued a memo (pdf) Sunday saying that there is new evidence on the “proximal origin of Sars-COV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19. The memo detailed a conference call with former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins, former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and at least 11 other scientists in early February 2020, just about a week after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the United States.
Collins, Fauci, and others were warned in the Feb. 1, 2020, call about the possibility that the virus may have leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, according to Sunday’s memo.
Three days after the call, four participants of the conference call issued a paper called “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2” and sent a draft to Collins and Fauci, the memo said. The two officials were also authorized to edit and approve the paper, it said.
But two months later, the memo said, Collins emailed Fauci and expressed “dismay that Proximal Origin—which they saw prior to publication and were given the opportunity to edit—did not squash the lab leak hypothesis and [asked] if the NIH can do more to ‘put down’ the lab leak hypothesis”
Citing internal emails, the House GOP committee asserted that Fauci “prompted” Dr. Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research to write the Proximal Origin paper and that it was designed “to ‘disprove’ any lab leak theory.” In August 2021, Scripps issued a letter to Republican House investigators and said that “Dr. Anthony Fauci did not attempt to influence his work. Both statements do not appear to be supported by the available evidence.”
The Proximal Origin paper’s abstract suggested that the virus may have emerged via Malaysia pangolins because they “contain coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV.” It added: “The presence in pangolins of [a virus’ receptor-binding domain] very similar to that of SARS-CoV-2 means that we can infer this was also probably in the virus that jumped to humans.”
But Sunday’s memo, citing internal emails, stipulated that Anderson “did not find the pangolin data compelling” and only wrote the paper after being “prompted” by Fauci, Collins, and the others.
“Privately, Dr. Andersen did not believe the pangolin data disproved a lab leak theory despite saying so publicly. It is still unclear what intervening event changed the minds of the authors of Proximal Origin in such a short period of time,” the House committee said. “Based on this new evidence, the pangolin data was not the compelling factor; to this day, the only known intervening event was the February 1 conference call with Dr. Fauci.”
Dr. Francis Collins speaks in Washington on Sept. 9, 2020. (Michael Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images)
Sunday’s memo puts more Republican pressure on Fauci, who has faced significant criticism for his handling of COVID-19 as well as his often dire predictions about the trajectory of the virus early on in the pandemic. As of Sunday afternoon, neither Fauci nor Collins has made public statements in response to the House committee’s memo.
While in congressional hearings, Fauci clashed with Republicans—namely Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). In one instance in 2021, Fauci dismissed Paul’s statements that his agency funded a third-party group to perform controversial research on bat coronaviruses at a Wuhan lab and even said to Paul: “You do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”
Last year and weeks before leaving his federal position, Fauci told STAT News that he would be willing to comply with Republican-led congressional probes into his agency. It came as GOP lawmakers signaled they would ramp up investigations into the federal government’s response to the pandemic and whether any agency tried to cover up the origins of the virus.
“I’d be more than happy to discuss anything that we’ve done over the last several years with this outbreak, since I have nothing to hide and I can defend everything we’ve done,” he said in November.
Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Fox News days ago that his bureau believes the virus may have emerged from the Wuhan lab. Noting that many details are classified, Wray said that the Chinese regime has been less than willing to cooperate with U.S. authorities.
By Jack Phillips