We told you so. There’s probably a more polite way to say that, but who cares? We are long past the time for politeness regarding the derelictions of our leadership class when it came to Covid-19. The American public has every reason to be angry. And the small, maligned group of scientists, journalists, and political figures who challenged the wisdom of America’s designated Covid experts deserves an apology.

In the first weeks of the pandemic in 2020, nobody knew much about this mysterious new disease. People were scared, and they were eager to follow the advice of the public health authorities. The experts, from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) chief Anthony Fauci to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and on down to local officials, all seemed confident they knew what they were doing. And they wasted no time telling us what to do.

We all had to stay six feet apart. Better yet, we should avoid leaving the house at all. Weddings, funerals, and religious services were cancelled. Businesses closed. Schoolchildren were consigned to remote “learning.” The media celebrated an unhinged Florida lawyer who roamed beaches dressed as the grim reaper, while authorities in San Clemente, California, filled a skateboard park with sand to protect local teenagers from the dangers of fresh air. Experts showed an eerie unanimity on the scientific mysteries surrounding Covid: Where did it come from? How did it spread? What treatments might be effective against it? The only acceptable answers to those questions were the ones passed down from the World Health Organization, America’s Centers for Disease Control, and similar authorities.

In the absence of hard data, a little overreach on the part of experts might have been forgivable, at least at first. As the pandemic ground on, however, scientists started learning more about the disease, including insights that could help slow transmission and that undermined the case for rigid lockdowns. But the Covid gatekeepers mostly ignored any data that challenged their initial recommendations. They never admitted a mistake and rarely changed course on policy. And when it came to the mystery of Covid’s origin, the scientific community instantly closed ranks. The idea that a bat-related coronavirus might have emerged from a Wuhan China lab devoted to studying bat-related coronaviruses was deemed a far-out right-wing fantasy.

In other words, our public health officials, abetted by a politicized media, manufactured an airtight consensus on both Covid science and policy. This consensus was largely immune to scientific evidence or concerns about the real-world impacts of draconian policies.

But not everyone joined the lockstep march on Covid. Stanford University’s Jay Bhattacharya, along with two other public health experts, issued the Great Barrington Declaration. It sensibly argued that the social costs of extended lockdowns far exceeded their mostly hypothetical benefits. The Great Barrington argument was derided in the press and secretly censored on social media at the behest of government officials.

Similarly, at a time when the CDC and WHO both asserted the disease was transmitted primarily through “close contact,” Virginia Tech’s Lynsey Marr and several other scientists found abundant evidence that Covid was, in fact, airborne. This meant the key to saving lives was improving indoor ventilation, not displays of hygiene theater. Both health organizations largely ignored the new findings for more than a year, instead sticking to the “six-feet-apart” mantra and other dubious protocols. The astonishingly early arrival of vaccines was one of the pandemic’s key medical breakthroughs. But, as University of California, San Francisco, oncologist and epidemiologist Vinay Prasad argued, health officials confused and angered the public by exaggerating the vaccine’s benefits, ignoring its small but real risks (for young men, the danger of myocarditis arguably outweighs the vaccine’s upsides), and insisting that everyone—even children or people who’d gained immunity from previous Covid infections—keep taking booster after booster. Fauci’s vaccine mandates were a massive overreach.

And then there was the lab leak. It takes a lot to shock me, but, after following the lab-leak debate for four years, I continue to be stunned by the duplicity of Anthony Fauci and other leading health officials on this issue. I’ve written column after column about how Fauci and his nominal boss, National Institutes of Health head Francis Collins, joined several key virus researchers in scrambling to distract Congress, the press, and the public from questions about their long-standing links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Indeed, long before most American conservatives had even heard the term “lab leak,” Fauci was denouncing the idea as a nutty conspiracy theory.

Today we know there was a conspiracy. But it had nothing to do with a few dissident scientists and journalists asking questions about the origin of the virus. The conspiracy was orchestrated by Fauci and his closest aides. Thanks to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other reporting, we can now see how Fauci strong-armed his fellow scientists to embrace a false consensus on the lab leak. (According to emails later released, even some of the scientists whom Fauci pushed to write the famous 2020 “Proximal Origin” article—which claimed to disprove the lab-leak hypothesis—had doubts about their own paper’s conclusions.) Fauci and his team went on to conceal public records, bamboozle reporters, mislead Congress, and lean on social-media outlets to suppress inconvenient stories—all to cover up their possible complicity in the creation of Covid.

If not for the researchers who searched for clues, the reporters who refused to bow to the conventional wisdom, and the politicians who demanded accountability from Fauci and other officials, the scandal of Covid’s origin might be mostly forgotten by now. Instead, today we know that SARS-CoV-2 almost certainly leaked from the Wuhan lab. Is the science definitive? No. And it might never be. But we do know the U.S. nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance used NIH funding to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Then, in 2018, EcoHealth proposed another GoF project that would modify bat coronaviruses in an even riskier way. The U.S. government declined to fund that research and an EcoHealth spokesperson says the group’s involvement with the project ceased at that point. But many experts believe that program, or a similar one, continued in Wuhan under other auspices. Because less than two years later, SARS-CoV-2—which featured the exact genetic modification the U.S. scientists had proposed—began spreading through Wuhan’s civilian population. Meanwhile, years of investigation have produced no clear evidence supporting the claim that Covid spontaneously jumped from some wild animal to humans—not in the Wuhan wet market or anywhere else.

In July 2021, when the debate over a possible lab leak was at its most intense, NIAID official Dr. David Morens—an adviser to Fauci for a quarter of a century—wrote a weirdly candid email to a Bloomberg reporter. Morens explained that “my boss tony” had authorized him to speak to reporters about the Covid-origin question, but that Fauci himself didn’t want to be quoted. “Tony doesn’t want his fingerprints on origin stories,” Morens wrote. We now can see that Tony had been good at keeping his fingerprints off awkward stories, at least for a while. It took years before the public learned about Fauci’s off-screen role in soliciting the misleading “Proximal Origin” paper in early 2020, in working to discredit the Great Barrington authors, and in lobbying U.S. intelligence agencies to downplay lab-leak evidence.

Fauci’s empire of misdirection eventually began to collapse from within. His longtime deputy Morens was a particularly weak link. This spring, the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic has held hearings and released troves of incriminating documents. Some of the most damning revelations come from emails written by the hapless Dr. Morens. For years, Fauci and his NIAID team had been accustomed to operating with little public or government oversight. But then came Covid and with it nosy journalists filing FOIA requests right and left. Morens tried to shelter his boss, advising his contacts—via email!—how to avoid having their emails to Fauci and others swept up in document searches. According to him, NIAID has a FOIA expert who, instead of advising agency staffers how to follow the law, literally gave advice on evading FOIA requests.

“I learned from our foia lady here how to make emails disappear after i am foia’d but before the search starts, so i think we are all safe,” Morens wrote in one ill-advised missive. One of the people on that email chain was EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak. Morens seems to have been particularly worried about protecting Daszak, a longtime friend, from damning disclosures. “Delete all of Peter’s emails and others relating to origin,” Morens advised another contact.

On the dubious assumption that those private emails would be immune to inquiries, Morens advised Daszak and others to contact him only via Gmail. But if that weren’t feasible, he added, “just send to any of my addresses and I will delete anything I don’t want to see in the New York Times.” Other NIH staffers took to using clever misspellings—such as “Ec~Health”—apparently in hopes of evading FOIA keyword searches. (Both EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak himself have recently been debarred from receiving federal research funds.) In an article about the NIH’s attempted FOIA foiling, the New York Times blandly noted, “Experts on record retention policies said the comments were reflective of poor transparency practices.” Ya think?

In late May, Morens tried to explain himself before the House Subcommittee. In one of his many emails to Daszak, Morens had written that Fauci and Collins “are trying to protect you, which also protects their own reputations.” During his confused, evasive testimony, Morens did little to protect his bosses’ reputations. Or his own. (At one point, a sympathetic lawmaker advised the witness to simply stop talking and plead the Fifth.) AEI senior fellow Roger Pielke Jr., who attended the hearing, called it “possibly the worst performance by a witness that I’ve observed in the past 30 years.”

But the shambolic Morens appearance was just a warm-up for the big event: Anthony Fauci’s testimony before the subcommittee on June 3. The now-retired NIAID director had testified behind closed doors for two days in January. Now the subcommittee members would have the chance to grill him in an open session.

Fauci’s earlier testimony—which the subcommittee released in advance of his public appearance—offered numerous lines of inquiry. For example, in January, Fauci casually admitted he knew of no scientific basis for the CDC’s six-foot guideline, which his agency had endorsed. Had Fauci reviewed studies supporting mask requirements for school children? “You know, I might have,” he said in the earlier hearing, “but I don’t recall specifically that I did.” In truth, there is little scientific basis for either policy. And yet Fauci and his colleagues never wavered on rules that disrupted almost every aspect of public and economic life and damaged an entire cohort of children.

As is all too often the case, the hearing failed to generate the information it was convened to uncover. Republicans were uncoordinated in their questions, and rather than following sustained lines of inquiry, they tried to outdo each other in berating the witness. (Marjorie Taylor Greene held up a picture of dogs she claimed were killed in research “you signed off on!”) Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel seemed united in protecting Fauci from any criticism. “Thank you for your science,” said Jill Tokuda of Hawaii. Debbie Dingell of Michigan dismissed the Republican-led hearing as “a witch hunt.”

And then there was the biggest question: Did gain-of-function research in Wuhan lead to the global pandemic, and did U.S. agencies and scientists play any role in that research? A year or two ago, it seemed that the old “conspiracy-theory” jabs were fading, and that Democrats and Republicans were becoming more willing to address the question with open minds. But Democrats showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the pandemic’s deepest mystery—and the possible world-historical scandal at the bottom of it.

When Republicans pressed him on the Wuhan question, the former NIAID director tried to brazen them out. Asked by Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan whether he agreed “there was a push to downplay the lab-leak theory,” Fauci snapped, “None on my part.” Questioned about the “Proximal Origin” paper he had pressed scientists to write, he claimed the paper only rejected the notion that the virus was “engineered.” This is a lie. The paper flatly stated, “We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.” Pressed on evidence that his employees were illegally skirting recordkeeping rules, Fauci threw his longtime adviser Morens under the bus. He “may report to someone lower,” he sniffed.

Asked about NIAID’s well-documented funding of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, Fauci answered, “I would not characterize it as dangerous gain-of-function research.” Instead, he doubled down on his long-standing effort to narrow the definition of the term to the point of meaninglessness. Even EcoHealth’s Peter Daszak has referred to some of the experiments in question as “gain-of-function.” Watching this, U.S. Right to Know reporter Emily Kopp—who has done groundbreaking work on this issue—was stunned. “I can’t understand how this would not qualify as willful perjury,” she wrote on X.

Republicans shouldn’t let up on pushing for a reckoning. Keep those subpoenas coming. We may never know for certain that Covid leaked from the Wuhan lab, or whether U.S. scientists were—directly or indirectly—involved in its creation. But we do know that our country’s top public health officials lied to us about their history with the lab. And that they implemented draconian policies that devastated our economy and disadvantaged children, all based on little more than hunches.

The skeptics were right. The experts were wrong. And “Tony’s fingerprints” are all over the cover-up.

Photo: AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

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