More than 3,000 pages of emails last year from Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s most famous health official, are now public and prompting calls for a congressional investigation or even his ouster.
The emails from the first half of 2020 reveal Fauci’s skepticism early on about masks to ward off COVID-19, his dismissal of the notion that the new coronavirus escaped a lab in China, and his vague reference to researching how to make the virus deadlier.
He also received complimentary messages from a Chinese scientist, the emails show.
Fauci, 80, is an immunologist who, as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, became one of the most recognized faces of the fight against COVID-19.
The emails—obtained by BuzzFeed and The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act—also show Fauci waving off his celebrity status while at the same time embracing a Disney documentary and contacting other celebrities.
The Post reported on almost 900 pages of email messages to and from Fauci in March and April of 2020. BuzzFeed produced about 3,200 pages of emails stretching from January through June of last year.
Here are 11 takeaways from the publication of the Fauci emails.
1. Capitol Hill Response
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has faced off against Fauci in several public hearings, tweeted: “Told you. #FireFauci.”
Paul also tweeted, “Can’t wait to see the media try to spin the Fauci FOIA emails.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the ranking Republican on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, tweeted: “The truth is out.” Scalise also insisted on a congressional investigation.
“Fauci’s emails show he suspected early last year that COVID-19 possibly leaked from the Wuhan lab—yet he stayed silent,” Scalise wrote on Twitter. “This is a major cover-up. We need a full congressional investigation into the origins of COVID-19.”
2. ‘Gain of Function’
On Feb. 1, 2020, Fauci wrote his deputy and fellow immunologist Hugh Auchincloss, saying:
It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on. I have a conference call with [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex] Azar. Read this paper, as well as the email I will forward you now. You will have tasks today that must be done.
That same day, Auchincloss replied, mentioning someone named Emily, apparently another colleague:
The paper you sent me says the experiments were performed before the gain of function pause, but have since been reviewed and approved by NIH. Not sure what that means since Emily is sure that no coronavirus has gone through [a] P3 framework. She will try to determine if we have any distant ties to this work abroad.
“Gain of function” refers to changing a sample of a virus, such as to make it more contagious or dangerous, in order to study a more effective response. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health put a “pause” on gain of function research, but lifted it in 2017.
The term “P3 framework” may refer to a public-private partnership, one of which the NIH announced in April 2020 to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and treatment options.
Fauci has told a Senate panel that the United States did not fund any such research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which some knowledgeable observers argue is the likely source of the new coronavirus.
3. ‘Masks … for Infected People’
Fauci appeared not to be alarmed by the new coronavirus in the early stages, dismissing a need for masks, not expecting many casualties, and saying that domestic flights are safe.
In a Feb. 5 email to former HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Fauci wrote that masks are for those who are infected.
“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading the infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring the infection,” Fauci wrote Burwell. “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out [the] virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.”
A private citizen emailed Fauci on Feb. 28, asking first whether Vice President Mike Pence had ordered him not to inform the public about COVID-19 without approval.
The writer then asked: “I’m planning to fly domestically TOMORROW [REDACTED]. Is it safe??”
Fauci replied: “I actually have not been muzzled at all by the Vice President. And BTW, it is safe to fly domestically [REDACTED].”
As of this month, about 592,000 U.S. deaths have been tied to COVID-19, out of almost 34 million reported cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A day after the first reported U.S. death, an ABC News correspondent emailed Fauci to ask whether he agreed with a source in the Department of Homeland Security that as many as 500,000 deaths could result from the virus and 98 million could be infected.
Fauci replied: “That seems exceptionally high.”
4. ‘China … Misled the World’
Erik A. Nilsen, who has a doctorate in applied physics, emailed Fauci in March 2020 that he had been modeling COVID-19 since the previous January.
“The data posted by China is not only garbage, it has misled the world into a false sense of security,” Nilsen wrote. He said COVID-19 could become a “tsunami in the USA,” adding: “I believe we missed the containment boat quite a while ago.”
Nilsen wrote Fauci that he had learned 5 million people left Wuhan on Jan. 22, before China locked down the city, and “scattered” to more than 13,000 other places.
“I’m confident that China stopped counting dead COVID-19- infected bodies [since] January 7, 2020,” he wrote.
Fauci forwarded the email to an aide and wrote: “Too long for me to read.”
5. ‘Sequences … Look Engineered’
Kristian G. Andersen, a professor and researcher at Scripps Research’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology, sent an email to Fauci on Jan. 31, 2020, about the virus, saying that “one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered.”
Andersen added that he and his colleagues “all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”
“But we have to look at this much more closely and there are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change,” he continued.
In response, Fauci wrote: “Thanks, Kristian. Talk soon on the call.”
A Feb. 21 email from someone who said he was a dermatologist who graduated from Cornell Medical School wrote Fauci to say: “We think there is a possibility the virus was released from a lab in Wuhan, the biotech area of China. We also think the virus might be complexed with another organism, such as a yeast or fungus to make it more sticky.”
The next day, Fauci forwarded the email to a colleague, saying only, “Please handle.”
In an April 16 email, NIH Director Francis Collins, his boss, sent Fauci an email referring to the theory of a Wuhan lab leak with the subject line “conspiracy gains momentum.”
The email included a link to a news story about the theory.
6. ‘Your Comments Are Brave’
The National Institutes of Health sent money to the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the research lab in China.
British zoologist Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, wrote Fauci on April 18 to thank him for asserting that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appeared to have originated in an animal.
“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 to Fauci.
EcoHealth Alliance is a federal contractor that funded work at the Wuhan lab.
Daszak added: “Your comments are brave, and coming from your trusted voice, will help dispel the myths being spun around the virus’ origins.”
Fauci replied, “Peter: Many thanks for your kind note.”
7. Chinese Official: Let’s ‘Work Together’
George Gao, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted in Science magazine as calling it a “big mistake” for Fauci not to promote wearing a mask during the pandemic.
On March 28, Gao wrote to Fauci to say that he was misquoted.
“I saw the Science interview, how could I say such a word ‘big mistake’ about others? That was [the] journalist’s wording. Hope you understand,” Gao wrote. “Lets [sic] work together to get the virus out of the earth.”
Fauci responded: “I understand completely. No problem. We will get through this together.”
Gao followed with an April 8 email, relling Fauci: “I saw some news (hope it is fake) that [you] are being attacked by some people. Hope you are well under such [an] irrational situation.”
Fauci replied on April 11: “Thank you for your kind note. All is well despite some crazy people in this world.”
8. NFL Season
Thom Mayer, medical director of the National Football League Players Association, emailed a Fauci aide to request a briefing on how to safely begin the next pro football season.
Mayer said the players association and the NFL could start a joint task force on the pandemic.
“My request is to have Dr. Fauci give a telephone briefing to our group on this difficult topic, which would of course be confidential.” Mayer wrote. “The floor would be his and I could brief him prior to the call on what we have been working on,”
Fauci’s response to his aide about the Mayer request was deleted from the email, which like others was heavily redacted.
9. ‘Cult Following’
An NIH colleague emailed Fauci on March 31 with a link to a Washington Post story carrying the headline: “Fauci socks, Fauci doughnuts, Fauci fan art: The coronavirus expert attracts a cult following.”
Fauci replied: “Truly surrealistic. Hopefully, this all stops soon.”
A week later, on April 8, Fauci forwarded a story with the headline: “‘Cuomo Crush’ and ‘Fauci Fever’—Sexualization of These Men Is a Real Thing on the Internet.”
Besides Fauci, the story referred to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was attracting praise for his response to the pandemic before information emerged that the Democratic governor directed that COVID-19 patients be sent back to nursing homes.
The name of the person to whom Fauci forwarded the story was redacted.
Fauci wrote: “It will blow your mind. Our society is really totally nuts.”
Fauci didn’t shy away from a documentary film proposed by Disney.
A message from Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Robert Iger said the documentary would feature footage of Fauci at home as well as doing his job.
In another email, Fauci wrote that seeing Hollywood star Brad Pitt playing him on “Saturday Night Live” had “made my year.”
10. Contacts With Gates, Zuckerberg
An April 1 email refers to a phone call between Fauci and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
In the email, Fauci said he was “enthusiastic about moving forward on a collaborative” effort between public health agencies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
On March 15, a message from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his employer’s interest in working with Fauci on an “information hub” for COVID-19.
11. Republican Correspondents
In an April 10 email, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., asked Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump had touted as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The drug primarily was used to treat lupus.
Upton asked Fauci whether people with lupus have contracted COVID-19.
On April 11, Fauci answered, “almost certainly yes.” But he added that there wasn’t enough data yet.
Upton replied to Fauci: “Keep being a science truth teller.”
Fauci responded: “Thanks, Fred. I appreciate your note.”
Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff at the time, emailed Fauci on April 11 with a message that isn’t entirely clear.
“You correctly noticed the symptoms but misdiagnosed the root cause,” Short wrote in a heavily redacted email that closes: “Apologies for a poor poker face.”
The vice president’s chief of staff sent the email shortly before Easter, and Trump had said several times that he hoped to open up the economy again by Easter. The president also admitted it was an optimistic goal.
Fauci responded to Short: “Thanks for the note. Understood. I wish you a peaceful and enjoyable day with your family.”
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