Republicans ramp up attacks on Fauci

June 6, 2024

House Republicans say they aren’t finished with Anthony Fauci.

Emboldened by newly uncovered emails showing attempts by top aides to evade public record laws and lingering anger over coronavirus mitigation efforts, Republicans say they want to bring criminal charges against the nation’s former top infectious diseases official.  

Fauci was widely viewed as the public face of the coronavirus pandemic, but Republicans think they are close to finding a smoking gun proving not only that he lied to Congress but that he led a government cover-up about the origins of the virus. 

Fauci has been a lightning rod for criticism from conservatives, particularly among allies of former President Trump. Calls to prosecute the 83-year-old former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for unspecified crimes have become a rallying cry among some on the right.  

During a hearing this week, Republicans on the subcommittee investigating the pandemic grilled Fauci on his relationship with EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that received federal funding from Fauci’s agency to conduct virus experiments in Wuhan, China. 

Fauci has repeatedly denied EcoHealth was conducting controversial “gain of function” research, though Republicans have accused him of splitting hairs. They questioned him about David Morens, a former adviser who deleted emails and appeared to try to hide information from being disclosed under transparency laws. 

While the hearing did not present evidence linking Fauci to the pandemic’s origins, some Republicans insisted he was still responsible and needs to be held accountable.  

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told Fauci he should be “prosecuted for crimes against humanity” and didn’t deserve to have a medical license. 

“You belong in prison, Dr. Fauci,” said Greene. 

Fauci also took heat on broader COVID-19 issues, like the rationale for shutting down schools and churches, and the government’s recommendation for 6-foot “social distancing.”  

The former NIAID director has blamed Republican attacks for inciting threats against him and his family. 

Appearing Monday evening on Newsmax after the hearing, Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who also sits on the COVID subpanel, accused Fauci of causing “more harm to our national debt and to our economy than any single human being in my lifetime.” 

“Hopefully, we can take his words today and continue to try to gather evidence and take steps to try to hold him in criminal wrongdoing, because I believe that the majority of Americans realize that Dr. Fauci made costly mistakes, he’s lied about them and he’s tried to cover it up,” Comer said. 

“We are going to take this further,” subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) declared on Fox News when asked how he planned to proceed.  

“As far as any criminal liability, I think there’s a case to be made,” he added. 

Fauci’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.

After the hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the Oversight Committee ranking member who is also on the COVID subcommittee, said Republicans had no case, comparing it to their so far fruitless impeachment probe into President Biden. 

“The effort to smear and vilify Dr. Fauci parallels their effort to smear and impeach Joe Biden. Both of them were complete failures because there’s no evidence behind any of it, but it does reflect their new style of political character assassination,” Raskin said.

Wenstrup has requested Fauci’s private emails and cellphone records related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, EcoHealth and the origins of the coronavirus. Republicans have not yet threatened a subpoena, but Wenstrup gave Fauci a deadline of June 12 for a written response. 

Democrats on the subcommittee have repeatedly said efforts to go after Fauci fall outside the committee’s stated goals of trying to find the origins of COVID-19 and preparing for the next pandemic. 

“I think we actually should spend more of our time trying to understand what we did well during the pandemic, what we didn’t do well, and then really trying to prepare for … the next pandemic,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) told The Hill. 

“I think that the whole year and a half of the committee has focused kind of on witch hunts,” he added. 

But fellow House Republicans are standing behind the aims of criminal referrals for Fauci, even if they can’t point to specific crimes. 

“It’s certainly worth looking into,” Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas) told The Hill. “I’m not a lawyer to tell you which subset of U.S. code, but I can tell you from a moral standpoint, it’s easy to say that he was not faithfully executing the duties of his office when it came to what’s best for the American people.” 

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) said Fauci’s testimony was “incriminating” and that it was time to “stop playing word games and semantics.” 

“I think the only way that we are going to be able to gain the trust of the public, when it comes to public health, when it comes to vaccines, is to hold people accountable,” said Miller-Meeks. 

“You can’t just be in a government position, making a very high salary and then expect to waltz out and retire when you want to after misleading the public and pushing your own agenda.” 

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), perhaps the loudest critic of Fauci in Congress, has taken particular interest in the emails from Morens that seemed to implicate Fauci as being aware of “back channels” and questionable practices.  

Fauci vehemently denied any knowledge of Morens’s emails on Monday. 

“If that doesn’t warrant further scrutiny or pursue prosecution, I don’t know what does,” Paul said of the disconnect between Morens and Fauci while appearing Tuesday on The Hill’s “Rising.” 

“[Morens’s] testimony directly conflicts with what Anthony Fauci said yesterday, who said he never used private email, never used the private phone,” Paul said. “And so, really, I think there needs to be further investigation to find out who’s telling the truth here.” 

Holden Thorp, editor of the journal Science, said the politically expedient attacks had yet to land on Fauci. 

“To my knowledge, no one’s produced any evidence that Tony Fauci knowingly and intentionally buried the lab leak idea,” Thorp said. 

“I don’t agree with where they’re going with this. But I also think that there are things that the scientific community did that we could have done better,” he added.

Thorp testified before the subcommittee earlier this year about alleged efforts to suppress the lab leak theory in scientific journals, and denied Fauci ever pressured him. But he said he understands the politics at play. 

“The truth is, you know, we had an election, they won the majority, they get to have these hearings. And going in there and answering their questions as cooperatively as you can is probably the best move,” he said.