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.”