By Zachary Stieber
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday sent a criminal referral of Dr. Anthony Fauci to the Department of Justice, in the aftermath of their contentious back-and-forth during a congressional hearing.
The letter urges Attorney General Merrick Garland to probe Fauci over comments he made during a May congressional hearing.
Fauci during the hearing claimed that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
However, according to typical gain of function definitions, including one offered by Fauci in 2012, a study published in 2017 by Wuhan researchers would be considered such research.
“I ask that you investigate whether Dr. Fauci’s statements to Congress” violate federal law, Paul wrote in the letter.
The senator accused Fauci of lying during a Senate hearing earlier in the day, a charge Fauci has disputed.
At issue is funding Fauci’s agency gave to the Wuhan Institute of Virology through an intermediary. The top-level laboratory used the money to conduct gain-of-function experiments, Paul said, citing the U.S. government’s definition of the term. Fauci claims that the experiments conducted don’t fit the definition.
Paul gave Fauci a chance to retract the comments from May, but Fauci declined.
Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the NIH. His institute didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
People convicted of lying to Congress can go to prison for up to five years.
Fauci, who has been in his position for more than two decades, has struggled with messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was among the officials who said early last year that masks wouldn’t be effective against the disease. After he and others reversed themselves, citing what they said was new data, he acknowledged that he had misled people on the efficacy of masks because of concerns that there weren’t enough for health care workers.
Republicans recently called for Fauci to step down after the release of troves of internal emails obtained by nonprofits and news organizations through Freedom of Information Act requests, but the doctor has thus far refused to do so.
Fauci has the backing of President Joe Biden’s administration and serves as the president’s chief medical adviser.
“I’m very confident in Dr. Fauci,” Biden told reporters last month.