In a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on NIH funding, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Dr. Anthony Fauci about the origins of COVID-19 and past statements by him which downplayed the lab-leak theory. The senator wanted to know why a natural occurrence theory of origin was favored over a lab leak, and wondered what the precedent for that was. The transcript of the interview is below:
Senator Rubio: Thanks all of you for being here. I think I’ll direct this to Dr. Fauci, but I welcome his answer. I just want to go through what we do know. We’ve heard a lot about what we don’t know. So, here are the things we do know, okay? So, SARS-1, we identified the host animal within four months. MERS I believe we identified the host animal within nine months. It’s now been 15 and a half, 16 months, and we’ve still not seen, and China’s not produced any evidence of the host animal that transmitted CoViD-19 to a human. Um, we know that China has a history of lab accidents. I think Dr. Fauci you answered Senator Graham’s question, I think he phrased it, “Has there ever been a pandemic that came out of a laboratory and the answer was, No. But we do know of outbreaks that came out of a…out of a laboratory. I believe, uh, back in 2004, two researchers in Beijing were infected doing some research on SARS and it led to an outbreak. China has a history of lab accidents. Um, this outbreak happened in a city that happened to be home coincidentally of a lab which we know involved in extensive research. And what they so is they take this naturally occurring virus, and they manipulate it, and change it to make it infectious to humans. We know that they do that there. They published about it. And it also happened in a city and a lab where a Rutgers biosecurity raised concerns about its safety, and our diplomats in 2018 were cabling back to Washington expressing concern about this. So, I take all those facts together, right? SARS, we knew the host in four months; MERS we knew the host in nine; we still don’t know the host for CoViD even though—and China’s not being transparent about it—even though they have a vested interest in producing the host, so they can put all of this down. Um, in a lab that we know is involved in changing viruses synthetically so that they become infectious for humans, um, in a lab that diplomats have told us is unsafe, in a country with a history of lab leaks. And by the way in a virus that we know can be synthetically created because the Swiss just did it, the Swiss created an exact replica of this virus in the lab, for purposes of answering it. All of these facts were available to us last May, last April, why—I’ll start with Dr. Fauci, why did you dismiss the lab leak theory as…as credible?
Dr. Fauci: I have always said that the high likelihood is that this is a natural occurrence. I didn’t dismiss anything. I just said it’s a high likelihood that this is a natural occurrence from the environment of an animal reservoir that we have not yet identified. And I still maintain that, but as I just mentioned in the response to other questions that since you don’t know 100% about that because no one knows, including me, 100% what the origin is, is the reason why we’re in favor of further investigation.
Senator Rubio: Well, given everything I’ve decided, and if anything I’ve decided isn’t correct, I hope I’ll be corrected. I’m relying—obviously it is not my field of study—so I’m relying on what other experts have published. What is the basis for the high likelihood, what is the basis for the conclusion that it is likelier to have been naturally occurring than a lab accident? I asked this specific question to the director of national intelligence, and how I posed it, “Is it not true that it is the assessment that they are equally likely based on our information that we have. So, as I outline all of these things, is she wrong when she answered my, Yes? And based on everything. I’ve decided why,,,what is it that we’re basing the higher likelihood of naturally occurring, is it simply because that’s all we’ve ever seen in the past?
Dr, Fauci: Well, we have historically experience that happened with SARS, CoV-1; it happened with MERS; it happened with HIV; it happened with virtually all the influenza pandemics. So, the historical basis for pandemics evolving naturally from an animal reservoir is extremely strong. And it’s for that reason that we felt that something similar like this has a much higher likelihood, But again, getting back to what I said, and let me repeat so there is no lack of clarity in that. No one knows, not even I, 100% at this point, which is the reason why we are in favor of further investigation.
Senator Rubio: But going back to precedent. Precedent require them to be similar, the difference between this one and that one is—and as I said, four months we knew the host for SARS, nine months we knew the host for MERS. China has all the incentive in the world to produce this host, and hasn’t done so. And then you add up all these other things. I mean is it just a coincidence it happened in the city that’s doing this kind of research, which by the way is controversial. I know you have not been supportive of it. It’s controversial. It’s not widely accepted as good. My whole point is that there are people out there who had Facebook posts taken down, were called cooks, conspiracy theorists for publicly a year ago what we now say may be possible. And I think those people deserve an apology at a minimum. Thank you.
Forbes Breaking News, “Why Did You Dismiss The Lab-Leak Theory?”: Rubio Grills Fauci On Past Statements Of COVID-19 Origin”, May 27, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilt_NcaIIRk