WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, sparred with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., at a hearing Tuesday after Paul attacked him for appearing to disagree with scientists who said the coronavirus originated in a lab in China.
“What happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there, and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children, with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me,” Fauci said at the Senate hearing.
The two men have had tense exchanges at previous hearings about the coronavirus.
Fauci blasted Paul, who was an ophthalmologist before he was elected to Congress, for making political attacks against him, noting that a man who was arrested Dec. 21 while traveling from Sacramento, California, was alleged to have told police that he was headed to Washington, D.C., to kill Fauci. The man had an AR-15 rifle in his vehicle, along with magazines of ammunition, police said.
“So I asked myself, ‘Why would senator want to do this?’ So go to Rand Paul website and you see ‘Fire Dr. Fauci’ with a little box that says, ‘Contribute here.’ You can do $5, $10, $20, $100,” Fauci said. “So you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain.”
Paul said earlier in the hearing that an email exchange between Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, showed Fauci and Collins appearing to disagree with scientists who said the coronavirus originated in a lab in China.
“You know, you’re going back to that original discussion when I brought together a group of people to look at every possibility with an open mind,” Fauci said. “So you’re not only distorting it, you are completely turning it around, as you usually do.”
Paul said in a statement after the hearing, “Anyone who dares to question Fauci’s smear campaign against other scientists is accused by Fauci of fomenting violence.”
“As someone who actually was the target of semiautomatic gunfire by a Bernie Sanders supporter, I never once accused Senator Sanders of being responsible for the attack and I resent Fauci avoiding the question by ginning up the idea that his opponents are the cause of threats,” Paul added.
Paul was referring to a 2017 shooting when Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and three other people were wounded after a gunman opened fire on members of the Republican congressional baseball team as they were holding a practice in Alexandria, Va.
Ian Sams, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, said in a statement after the hearing: “When it comes to misinformation, Republicans on the committee clearly weren’t trying to stop the spread.
“At a time when America is seeing rising COVID cases, it’s disappointing and frankly unacceptable that Republican Senators chose to spend a hearing with the country’s leading public health experts spreading conspiracy theories and lies about Dr. Fauci, rather than how we protect people from COVID-19,” Sams said.
Paul, a steadfast opponent of Covid mitigation measures and mask mandates, has clashed with Fauci before over other pandemic-related issues. Paul was the first senator known to have contracted the coronavirus when he tested positive in March 2020.
In July, Paul implied that Fauci had previously lied to Congress and was aware of what the lab in Wuhan, China, was doing with grant money that came from the NIH.
Tuesday’s hearing also sparked a tense exchange between Fauci and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., about Fauci’s financial disclosures and investments.
After the back-and-forth, Fauci was heard on a hot mic saying: “What a moron. Jesus Christ.”
Marshall said in a statement after the proceedings, “Calling me a moron during a Senate hearing may have alleviated the stress of the least trusted bureaucrat in America, but it didn’t take away from the facts.”