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When President Donald Trump ordered the cancelation of a grant linked to the Wuhan Institute of Virology last year after data suggested the coronavirus had originated at that lab, White House COVID adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci resisted obeying the directive, a new book suggests. Fauci only agreed to stop the funding when his job was threatened, the book alleges, and he later lied to Congress when asked why Trump ordered a termination of the grant.
According to a new book written by Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, questions surrounding the origins of the COVID-19 virus early last year led the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to seek to pause payments to the nonprofit organization EcoHealth Alliance, headed by Dr. Peter Daszak.
EcoHealth had been receiving grants from the NIH since 2013 and had collaborated closely with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study how bat coronaviruses jump to human subjects.
In October 2013 the organization reported it had discovered a new SARS-like coronavirus in Chinese horseshoe bats and had “isolated and cultured a live virus that binds to the human SARS receptor ACE2 and can therefore be transmitted directly from bats to people.”
The nature and extent of EcoHealth’s research was called into question after the COVID-19 pandemic struck early last year.
“With questions swirling about the origins of COVID-19 — experts had determined that the virus was not man-made but could not rule out that it might have slipped out of a lab — the NIH had gone to the principal study investigator [Daszak] on April 19 and asked that payments be halted to the subcontractor in Wuhan until it had more answers,” Abutaleb and Paletta wrote in an excerpt published by Fox News.
But instead of simply pausing the payments to EcoHealth, Trump ordered the NIH to outright cancel the grant, of which a remaining $369,819 had not yet been paid out.
“On the afternoon of April 24, [National Institutes of Health] director Francis Collins and Fauci received notice that Trump wanted to formally announce in a 5:00 p.m. press conference that the grant had been terminated,” explains the book, entitled Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History.
According to Nightmare Scenario, Collins and Fauci — the latter runs NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — pushed back against the directive, saying that they were unsure they had the authority to terminate the grant in the midst of the budget cycle.
Their objections were overridden by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lawyers, who advised Collins and Fauci that they would need to obey the direct order of the president if they wanted to keep their positions.
After that warning, “Fauci and Collins reluctantly agreed to cancel the grant.”
In June of last year Fauci was called to testify at a House Energy & Commerce Hearing on Capitol Hill and was asked why the EcoHealth Alliance grant had been canceled. Despite the NIH’s move on April 19 to pause payouts for the organization’s study of bat coronaviruses, Fauci claimed he did not know why the grant was terminated.
“Why was it canceled? It was canceled because the NIH was told to cancel it,” Fauci said. “I don’t know the reason, but we were told to cancel it.”
The apparent connection between the NIH and the Wuhan Institute of Virology via EcoHealth Alliance has put Fauci in the spotlight in recent months.
Evidence suggesting that the NIH had been funneling money to the Wuhan lab through EcoHealth caused Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist who graduated from Duke University’s School of Medicine, to argue that American scientists were helping Chinese researchers to conduct dangerous “gain-of-function” research.
“Gain-of-function research, as you know, is juicing up naturally occurring animal viruses to infect humans,” Paul said at a Senate committee hearing in early May. “To arrive at the truth, the U.S. government should admit that the Wuhan Virology Institute was experimenting to enhance the coronavirus’s ability to infect humans.”
“For years,” Paul continued, “Dr. Ralph Baric, a virologist in the U.S., has been collaborating with Dr. Shi Zheng-li [a Chinese virologist known as ‘Bat Lady’ for her work studying bat viruses] of the Wuhan Virology Institute, sharing his discoveries about how to create super viruses.”
Fauci denied the allegation, saying that Paul was “entirely and completely incorrect” and insisting that the NIH does not and has never funded gain-of-function research. Seconds later in the same hearing Fauci backpedaled, admitting that the U.S. virologist named by the senator may have been doing the kind of research in question.
“Dr. Baric [is] not doing gain-of-function research,” Fauci claimed, immediately adding, “and if it is it’s according to the guidelines, and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not in China.”
In an email released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA), EcoHealth Alliance president Dr. Daszak, who is also the principal investigator on the NIH grant, thanked Fauci for downplaying the theory that COVID-19 had been created in a lab.
“I just wanted to say a personal thank you on behalf of our staff and collaborators for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Daszak wrote.
Fauci’s flip-flopping and alleged falsehoods have generated ire among Republicans, with some calling for his resignation.
“Dr. Fauci is so obsessed with maintaining his own relevance and downplaying President Trump’s role in combating this crisis that he’s once again been caught lying,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) told Fox News.
“We need someone leading the pandemic response and our investigation into its origins who is more concerned with the truth than their own PR campaign,” Carter said. “It’s time for Dr. Fauci to go.”