Exclusive: Anthony Fauci resisted a White House directive in April last year to cancel a research grant for a nonprofit organization linked to the Wuhan Institute of Virology but “reluctantly agreed” after learned that then President Donald Trump had explicitly ordered its cancellation, according to an exclusive excerpt from a book detailing the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fauci’s debate with other senior officials on how to handle the request was detailed in “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History,” an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta.
The White House has pushed the National Institutes of Health to cut funding for a study examining how coronaviruses pass from infected bats to humans following reports linking research to the Wuhan facility at the center of the “theory laboratory leaks, “which postulates that the pandemic originated from a laboratory accident. Study sponsor, the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, has been ordered not to spend the remaining $ 369,819 balance of its 2020 grant.
In their book, Abutaleb and Paletta recount behind the scenes how Fauci and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health responded to the White House directive:
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“With questions swirling about the origins of COVID-19 – experts had determined that the virus was not of human origin but could not rule out that it could have escaped a lab – the NIH had gone see the study’s lead researcher on April 19 and requested that payments be suspended to the Wuhan subcontractor until he has more responses.
Days later, the relatively modest grant had attracted new attention … On the afternoon of April 24, NIH Director Francis Collins and Fauci were informed that Trump wanted to officially announce at a 5:00 p.m. press conference. that the grant had been terminated. “
Collins and Fauci told the White House and [the Department of Health and Human Services] that they weren’t sure the NIH actually had the power to end a peer-reviewed grant in the middle of a budget cycle. The HHS attorney general told them to do it anyway and made it clear that this was a direct order from the president, implying that their jobs were on the line if they didn’t comply. Fauci and Collins reluctantly agreed to cancel the grant. “
According to the book, Fauci relayed the incident to his longtime friend Peter Staley, the prominent HIV / AIDS activist, who allegedly pushed him to resist the administration’s directive.
“What do you mean?” Staley asked. “You can’t cancel a grant like this.”
“What do you want me to do?” said Fauci.
“Can’t you, along with Collins, threaten to quit because of this?” Staley suggested.
“You want us both to quit for a $ 3.7 million grant?” Fauci snapped back.
Staley instantly backed up. – You are right, you are right, he said. “This is not why you are resigning. “
(Collins and Fauci have heard from many in the scientific community that they should have resigned. The HHS General Counsel later found out that the agency likely did not have the authority to terminate the grant. NIH had to reinstate the grant but stopped all of its funding.)
It was the second time in days that it looked like Fauci was being bullied by White House political forces, and Staley thought it was a disturbing trend.
“You combine that with what happened with your Oval Office remdesivir announcement – and I know it doesn’t matter to the country. We’re not talking about Trump and politics and Fox and from across the country. “We are talking about the fact that you are now our leader in the fight against AIDS, in advocating for public health,” he told Fauci, his voice rising with emotion.
“In the scientific community, you are our leader. And in the course of forty-eight hours, you broke two major principles of how the scientific community does things. We have these rules for a reason, you were a major. defender of your whole life. “
Fauci did not return a request for comment on the book’s claims at the time of this article’s publication.
EcoHealth Alliance has worked with researchers from the Wuhan lab in the past, but was not actively collaborating with them when the grant was canceled, Politics reported last year.
During testimony at a House Energy & Commerce hearing in June 2020, Fauci claimed he was not aware of why the subsidy was canceled.
“Why was it canceled? It was canceled because the NIH was ordered to cancel it,” Fauci said at the time. “I don’t know the reason, but we were told to cancel it.”
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The NIH’s decision to fund research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a continuing point of contention between Fauci and several Republican lawmakers. Senator Rand Paul and others alleged that Fauci was aware that scientists at the Wuhan lab were conducting “gain-of-function” research on the virus – an accusation that Fauci categorically denied.
“Nightmare Scenario: In the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History” will debut on June 29.