"If anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you," Fauci told the Kentucky senator in a Tuesday hearing

By Virginia Chamlee
July 21, 2021 01:27 PM
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Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to accusations by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky
Dr. Anthony Fauci (left), Sen. Rand Paul
| Credit: J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty; STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty

For at least the fourth time in recent months, Dr. Anthony Fauci publicly defended himself to Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday, during a Senate hearing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exchange grew particularly heated when Paul, 58, questioned Fauci, 80, over whether the National Institutes of Health funded controversial research Paul claimed might have contributed to the virus' origins.

Fauci, the White House's chief medical advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, disputed the Kentucky senator's unsubstantiated claim.

"Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11, where you claimed that the NIH never funded gains-of-function research in Wuhan?" Paul asked on Tuesday.

"This paper you're referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain ... and Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially," Fauci said. "You do not know what you are talking about."

"I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement," Fauci said elsewhere during the exchange, saying that Paul was implying that those at the NIH are "responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that and if anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you."

Later that evening in an appearance on Fox News, Paul again claimed, without evidence, that Fauci had been lying. The senator further alleged he would seek a criminal referral into the matter.

The senator and the health official previously had testy exchanges over COVID-19 in May and September — one about the push to reopen schools and another about whether it was safe to relax restrictions on businesses — and again in March about wearing masks after a vaccination.

In the March exchange, Paul asked Fauci if it was really still necessary for people to be wearing masks after they get vaccinated.

"You want to get rid of vaccine hesitancy? Tell them you can quit wearing your mask after they get the vaccine," Paul said. "You want people to get the vaccine, give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state's going to be there for three more years and you got to wear a mask forever. People don't want to hear it."

"You're telling everyone to wear a mask," the senator told Fauci. "If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater?"

"Here we go again with the theater," Fauci then responded, brushing Paul off with the wave of his hand. "Let's get down to the facts ... Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective."

The World Health Organization cautioned in June that mask-wearing is important for even those who have been vaccinated against the virus, particularly as cases of the highly contagious Delta variant spike across the country.