Watch live: Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before Republican-led House committee on COVID pandemic response

Washington — DR. Anthony Fauci is testifying Monday before a Republican-led House committee investigating the origins of COVID-19 and the administration's response to the pandemic, a highly anticipated hearing that once again highlighted the deep partisan divide over the pandemic.

The hearing is Fauci’s first public appearance on Capitol Hill since Leaving government in 2022where he served as senior medical advisor to President Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci, revered by the left and vilified by the right during the pandemic, was grilled by Republicans on the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, while Democrats on the committee came to his aid and condemned what they viewed as a politically motivated action.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appears for a closed interview with the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on January 8, 2024.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Last week, the committee released transcripts of a closed-door interview with Fauci in January, which it said was a “critical component” of the committee's investigations into the origins of the virus, government policies during the pandemic and improvements to the U.S. public health system. The interview lasted 14 hours over two days.

At the time of the interview, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, said CBS News that the interview and the exchange were warm and professional.

Republican committee staff concluded in a key findings memo that the lab leak theory about the virus's origins was “not a conspiracy theory,” citing comments by Fauci during the interview that it “could be a lab leak or a natural occurrence,” although he noted that he believes the evidence he has seen suggests it was more likely a natural occurrence.

The memo also claimed that there was a lack of scientific evidence for certain measures related to the pandemic, such as the recommendation to maintain a distance of two meters from others, mandatory vaccinations and the requirement for children to wear masks.

The hearing comes days after Republicans on the committee asked Fauci to release some personal emails and asked whether he had used his private accounts to transmit information on official government business.

A senior adviser to Fauci, Dr. David Morens, faced tough questions from the panel last week because emails suggested he may have circumvented federal Freedom of Information Act rules by using a “secret backroom channel” to Fauci.

The Fauci hearing

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified during a hearing of a special House subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill on June 3, 2024.

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Wenstrup thanked Fauci at the start of Monday's hearing for his “willing cooperation” and pointed to his voluntary appearance at the interview in January and at Monday's hearing.

“In early 2020, you became the poster child for public health,” Wenstrup said in his opening remarks. “Americans from coast to coast and beyond have listened to your words, and that's where I think we could have done better… We should have been more precise, we should have used words and phrases that are accurate and not misleading. And we should have been honest, especially about what we didn't know.”

The hearing quickly turned serious as the committee chairman questioned alleged misconduct under Fauci's leadership, claiming he had allowed his office to be “unaccountable to the American people.”

“We have seen officials in your office talk in their own writings about violating federal law, deleting official records and sharing private government information with grant recipients. The office you lead and those serving under your leadership have chosen to disregard the law and brag about it,” Wenstrup said.

Fauci distanced himself from the investigation into Morens, saying they worked in different buildings on the National Institutes of Health campus. Morens only helped him write some scientific papers, Fauci said, and was not an adviser to him on “institutional policy or other substantive issues.”

“I want to state for the record that, to my knowledge, I have never conducted official business through my personal email address,” Fauci told the committee.

Fauci said many of Morens' actions were wrong and violated agency policies. He also directly contradicted Morens' claim, quoted from an email to EcoHealth Alliance, that Fauci was trying to protect the group. EcoHealth Alliance and its NIH funding have been under scrutiny since the start of the pandemic because of their ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“I don't know where he got that from, but that's not true,” Fauci said.

Fauci repeated a defense he has made for years for NIH funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the EcoHealth Alliance. The agency's $120,000 grant represents only a small fraction of the institute's budget, Fauci said.

Fauci said the allegation that he bribed grant money to influence scientists trying to find out whether the virus came from a lab was “absolutely false and just absurd.” He also rejected the claim that he tried to cover up that the virus came from the lab, saying he “always kept an open mind about the different possibilities.”

“I can't explain what else might be going on in China, and nobody can explain that either. For that reason, I have always said and will continue to say that I remain open-minded about the origin,” he said, “but one thing I know for sure: The viruses that were funded by the NIH cannot be phylogenetically the precursors of SARS-CoV-2.”

California Rep. Raul Ruiz, the panel's ranking Democrat, sharply criticized the subcommittee's Republican leadership for doing little to uncover new evidence about the virus's origins or improve preparedness for future pandemics.

“After 15 months, the Select Subcommittee still does not have a shred of evidence to support these extreme allegations that Republicans have been making against Dr. Fauci for nearly four years,” Ruiz said in his opening remarks.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland also defended Fauci, saying House Republicans were using the subcommittee as a platform for “disinformation” about Fauci.

“House Republicans now find themselves in the familiar position of having their own investigation debunk their out-of-control political rhetoric,” Raskin said. “The investigation of Dr. Fauci shows that he is an honorable public servant who has dedicated his entire career to public health and the public interest – and he is not a comic book supervillain.”

Fauci's testimony, as well as the closed hearing, are expected to be included in the subcommittee's final report on its investigation, due out later this year.