Fauci: Paul doesn't know what he's talking about

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election Hillicon Valley: Senate report finds major cyber shortcomings in federal agencies | Gig firms seek Mass. ballot question to classify workers as contractors | Blizzard's president steps down after workplace protests MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday escalated his ongoing feud with the nation's top infectious diseases doctor Anthony FauciAnthony FauciPaul knocks YouTube for removing video he posted, points users to competitor Average daily COVID-19 infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says Ron Johnson praises conservative author bashed by Fauci MORE about the role the National Institutes of Health (NIH) played in funding controversial research in Wuhan, China.

The two traded barbs during a tense exchange, triggering a shouting match in which Fauci accused Paul of lying in order to further his agenda. 

During a Senate Health Committee hearing about the federal COVID-19 response, Paul said the NIH funded illegal gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which created a highly dangerous and transmissible virus able to infect humans. Gain-of-function is a controversial method where researchers make a pathogen more infectious, often to develop more effective treatments and vaccines.

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It’s an unsubstantiated accusation Paul has made before, and one Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has denied. 

 In response to similar questioning during a hearing in May, Fauci said the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

It's not unusual for conservative Republicans and allies of former President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE to clash with Fauci during hearings; Paul has done so on numerous occasions, as has Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel Jordan58 percent say Jan. 6 House committee is biased: poll Kinzinger supports Jan. 6 panel subpoenas for Republicans, including McCarthy Jordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 MORE (R-Ohio).

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In the past, Fauci has tried to remain relatively calm, if terse, even as he responds to personal attacks and accusations of a cover-up. 

But on Tuesday, Paul stepped up his fight, implying that Fauci had lied to Congress, and that he was fully aware of what the Wuhan lab was doing with grant money that came from NIH. 

He also suggested that Fauci and the NIH could be partly responsible for the pandemic and the deaths of 4 million people worldwide.

Paul cited an academic paper that purportedly shows the lab was conducting illegal research to create “potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in the lab, not in nature,” a claim Fauci denied in one of his angriest public exchanges to date.

“Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, and I want to say that officially,” Fauci said. 

“How can you say that's not gain-of-function? It's a dance and you're dancing around this because you're trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic,” Paul responded, cutting Fauci off.

“If the point that you are making is that the grant that was funded as a subaward ... created SARS-COV-2, that’s where you are getting,” Fauci said, pointing two fingers at Paul before the senator cut him off again.

“We don't know ... but all the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab and there will be responsibility for those that funded the lab, including yourself,” Paul said.

“I totally resent the lie you are now propagating, senator,” Fauci said, adding that it is molecularly impossible that research funded by NIH was responsible for SARS-CoV-2.

Paul interjected again, talking over Fauci: “You are obviously obfuscating the truth,” to which Fauci replied, “I'm not obfuscating the truth -- you are.”

“You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that,” Fauci said. “And if anybody is lying here senator, it is you,” he added, pointing a finger at Paul.  

After Paul's time expired, Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithFauci: Paul doesn't know what he's talking about Clean electricity standard should be a no brainer amid extreme climate impacts Overnight Energy: Democrats reach budget deal including climate priorities | Europe planning to cut emissions 55 percent by 2030 | Army Corps nominee pledges not to politicize DAPL environmental review MORE (D-Minn.) was the next lawmaker up, and with a sympathetic but bemused expression, she offered Fauci an opportunity to “counteract these attacks on your integrity that we've all just witnessed.”

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“I don't think I have anything further to say,” Fauci said. “This is a pattern that Sen. Paul has been doing now at multiple hearings based on no reality. He keeps talking about gain-of-function. This has been evaluated multiple times by qualified people to not fall under the gain-of-function definition.”

He added: “I have not lied before Congress. I have never lied, certainly not before Congress. Case closed.”

This story was updated at 4:23 p.m.