Fauci set for fiery hearing with House GOP

June 2, 2024

Anthony Fauci, the public face of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, will offer his first congressional testimony in nearly two years Monday by a GOP-led committee likely to grill him over alleged misconduct that occurred under his leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Fauci, the NIAID director for nearly 40 years, will testify before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. It’s his first testimony since leaving 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 did return 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 comes on the heels of two highly contentious hearings before the subcommittee that raised questions over the level of oversight and conduct that went on in his agency, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that raised him to public prominence. 

Here’s what to know ahead of what could be a testy hearing.  

Public records controversy

Fauci is likely to get tough questions from Republicans about what he knew of efforts by another NIAID official accused of evading public records laws.

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

Morens’s testimony did little to endear Republicans to Fauci. Previously publicized emails from Morens suggested Fauci knew of public records misconduct at NIAID and sought to detach himself from it. 

In one email exchange with Daszak, Morens wrote, “… there is no worry about FOIAs. I can either send stuff to Tony on his private gmail, or hand it to him at work or at his house. He is too smart to let colleagues send him stuff that could cause trouble.” 

In another email, Morens told Daszak that Fauci was seeking to protect EcoHealth from scrutiny, though in other emails, he indicated that the former NIAID director wasn’t particularly involved in National Institutes of Health grants. Morens testified before the subcommittee that Fauci did not comment when asked in a conversation between them whether he had a hand in getting rid of a grant for EcoHealth. 

Speaking to The Hill, subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) questioned if Fauci’s leadership as NIAID director had a role in Morens’s behavior. 

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

Morens came up sporadically throughout Fauci’s January interview, though the bulk of questions had to do with whether Fauci dictated how Morens could communicate with the press. Fauci said he left those issues up to the NIAID’s press office. 

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

A partisan hearing

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

Wenstrup said he plans to ask questions about the grant process, whether Fauci knew of Morens’s communications with Daszak and continue to press the former government official on what he believes were the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think we need to ask questions about whether he thinks it’s a good process or not. And I’d like to hear what he thinks we should do going forward since he was involved with what I believe to be mistakes or a misguided process,” said the chairman. “Maybe we’ll get to hear from him on how we can do things better in the future.” 

Throughout his January interview, Fauci repeatedly said he did not recall certain details, though this was often in response to particularly granular questions or whether he remembered speaking to certain people. Fauci himself seemed to anticipate how this would reflect on him. 

“I guess this is going to go into the thing of ‘Fauci said so many times he can’t recall,’ but I can’t recall,” he said during the second day of interviews. 

Wenstrup said he hoped Fauci’s recollection had improved in the months since his interview. 

“But I think there are a lot of things he said he didn’t recall, and it’s probably in his best interest to not recall them,” said Wenstrup. “I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me that might be some lawyerly advice.” 

Democratic committee member Rep. Deborah Ross (N.C.) said she plans to ask what public health guidance Fauci can offer. 

“I will be focusing a lot on what public health has learned, how we can improve things, how to go forward in terms of communicating with the community,” said Ross. 

When asked if she believes Fauci’s testimony will be worthwhile given the exhaustive interview he gave just months ago, Ross said, “It would be worthwhile if we could work together toward a common goal. But I don’t think it’s worthwhile to attack a public health official who did everything that he could at the time with the goal of public health in mind.” 

Fauci’s interviews 

Transcripts from Fauci’s interview with the select subcommittee in January were released on Friday, giving a glimpse into the veteran scientist’s thoughts about the pandemic and his time as the country’s leading health adviser. Since leaving NIAID, Fauci has avoided interviews or making public comments. 

In his interview, he restated that he was open to both the natural origins and lab-leak theories about the virus, but leaned towards the natural origins given the current scientific evidence.  

He also reiterated his stance that federal funding did not reach the Wuhan Institute of Virology to support gain-of-function research, which enhances a pathogen’s transmissibility to predict how it may mutate in the future. 

Fauci said that by the “strict definition” of what gain-of-function research is — an experiment meant to cause an “increase in the transmissibility and/or the pathogenesis of a [potential pandemic pathogen]” — he did not believe gain-of-function research was funded by U.S. grants. 

He also briefly touched on how prior congressional testimonies affected him and his family.  

Asked about the threats he received during the pandemic, Fauci requested a “time out for a second” and the interview went off the record. When the interview went back on the record, he linked the threats and harassment he received during the pandemic to prior testimonies. 

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

Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had numerous heated exchanges during Senate hearings throughout the pandemic. In one 2022 hearing, Fauci accused Paul of “distorting everything about me,” and adding “you just do the same thing every hearing.” 

“I don’t want to talk too much about it because I don’t want to get it,” added Fauci. “But it was constant threats to me, my wife, and my children, calling up — I have three daughters, and they’re, you know, at the time 28, 31, and 33, calling them up and saying — I don’t know how they got their phone number — but calling them up and telling 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.