Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio questioned Dr. Fauci about why he downplayed the theory that COVID-19 originated in a lab at a Senate Committee on Appropriations Hearing.
See below for a lightly edited transcript and watch the video here.
Rubio: “I want to go through what we do know. We’ve heard a lot about what we don’t know. But here’s the things that we do know.
“So, SARS 1, we identified the host animal within 4 months. MERS, I believe we identified the host animal within 9 months. It has now been 15 and a half, 16 months, and we still have not seen -- China has not produced any evidence of -- the animal that transmitted COVID-19 to a human.
“We know that China has a history of lab accidents. Dr. Fauci, you answered Senator Graham’s question, I think he phrased it as if there has 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 laboratory. I believe back in 2004 two researchers in Beijing were infected doing research on SARS, and it led to an outbreak. China has a history of lab accidents.
“This outbreak happened in a city that happened to be the home -- coincidentally -- of a lab, which we know is involved in extensive research, and what they do is they take this naturally occurring virus and they manipulate it and then change it to make it infectious to humans. We know that they do that there, they’ve published about it.
“And it also happened in a lab where a Rutgers biosecurity expert raised concerns about its safety, and our diplomats in 2018 were cabling back to Washington expressing concern about its safety. In a lab that we know is involved.
“So I take all of these facts together. SARS, we knew the host in four months. MERS, we knew the host in nine. We still don’t know the host for COVID, and China is not being transparent about it, even though they have a vested interest in producing the host so they can put all of those down.
“In a lab that we know is involved in changing viruses synthetically so that they become infectious for humans. In a lab that diplomats have told us is unsafe. In a country with a history of lab leaks, and by the way a virus that we know can be synthetically created, because the Swiss did it. The Swiss created an exact replica of this virus in the lab for purposes of answering it.
“All these facts were available to us last May, last April. I’ll start with Dr. Fauci -- why did you dismiss the lab leak theory as credible?”
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 as a 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.”
Rubio: “Well, given everything I’ve just cited...what is the basis for the conclusion that it is likelier to have been naturally occurring than the lab accident?
“I asked this specific question to the Director of National Intelligence, and how I posed it is, ‘Is it not true that it is the assessment that they are equally likely, based on our information that we have?’ Is she wrong when she answered me, ‘Yes’?
“Based on everything I’ve just cited, 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?”
Fauci: “Well, we have historical 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… no one knows — not even I, 100% at this point — which is the reason why we are in favor of further investigation.”
Rubio: “But going back to precedent — precedents require them to be similar. The difference between this one and that one is, as I said, in four months we knew the host for SARS, in 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.
“Is it just a coincidence it happened in a city that’s doing this kind of research which, by the way, is controversial? My whole point is there are people out there who had Facebook posts taken down, who were called kooks, conspiracy theorists, for saying publicly a year ago what we now say may be possible. And I think those people deserve an apology, at a minimum.”