Trump administration CDC Director Robert Redfield told a congressional committee Wednesday that his former colleague, Anthony Fauci, and former National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins froze him out of discussions on Covid-19’s origins.
The accusation came during a politically charged hearing Wednesday of the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and stoked Republican claims that Fauci in early 2020 promoted the view that an infected animal spread the virus to humans to divert attention from research the U.S. sponsored at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“It was told to me that they wanted a single narrative and then I obviously had a different point of view,” Redfield told representatives.
Redfield said Fauci, who led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the time, and Collins left him out because Redfield suspected the coronavirus had leaked from the Chinese lab.
Fauci, who was not at the hearing, dismissed Redfield’s accusation as “completely untrue.”
“No one excluded anyone,” he told POLITICO after the hearing.
“And the idea of saying that he was not wanted there because he had a different opinion … there were several people on the call who had the opinion that it might have been an engineered virus,” said Fauci, who retired from his government post at the end of last year.
Collins, who is now a science adviser to President Joe Biden, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has previously said he shares Fauci’s view that the virus likely came from nature, but that a lab leak was possible.
Redfield thought the highly infectious nature of the virus distinguished it from other coronaviruses and made it unlikely to have evolved naturally, he told representatives.
Fauci and others said it most likely came from a natural spillover from animals, as was the case with other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, Redfield said.
The former CDC director said he later found out he was excluded from a Feb. 1, 2020, conference call with Fauci and Jeremy Farrar, a U.K. scientist who at the time led the Wellcome Trust, and other conversations that resulted in the publication of an article in Nature in March 2020 dismissing the possibility of the virus originating in a lab. Farrar is now the World Health Organization’s top scientist.
Fauci told POLITICO he was not involved in the drafting of the article.
But Republican representatives at the hearing accused Fauci of having orchestrated it to deflect attention from U.S. funding research at the Wuhan lab.
“I think Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They got caught supercharging viruses in an unsecured Chinese lab,” said James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.
Fauci has repeatedly denied that the NIH financed so-called gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. That research aims to make viruses either more lethal or more transmissible or both to find ways to combat them.
Some Democratic representatives at the hearing warned that accusing Fauci of ill motives would further erode trust in government health officials, threatening public health.
“I want the facts, but I hope and say to my colleagues on the other side: We cannot go down a dangerous path by pushing unfounded conspiracies about Dr. Fauci and other long-serving career public health officials,” said Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
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