July 20 (UPI) -- Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed Tuesday after the lawmaker accused the top medical adviser of lying about the National Institute of Health's role in funding research in Wuhan, China.
During a Senate health committee about the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paul, R-Ky., asked Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, if he was lying in a May 11 testimony before Congress in which he said the NIH "has not ever and does not now" fund gain-of-function research -- which aims to increase the transmissibility of an organism to study disease -- at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
"Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11, where you claimed that the NIH never funded gain-of-function research and move on?" Paul said.
Fauci sharply rejected the accusation.
"Sen. Paul, I have never lied before the Congress. And I do not retract that statement," he said.
Paul suggested the NIH and Fauci could hold partial responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of 4 million people worldwide, as cases of the novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan.
President Joe Biden in May asked the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble their efforts" to find the likely origins of COVID-19, asking for further inquiries that may be required, including specific questions for China.
Paul cited an academic paper by a Chinese scientist to allege that gain-of-function research was performed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab with NIH funding.
"We don't know that it did come from the lab, but all the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab, and there will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself," the senator said.
Fauci sought to explain that the paper Paul cited did not represent gain-of-function research and shouted at the senator to let him finish speaking as the lawmaker attempted to interject.
"Sen. Paul, you do not know what you're talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially, you do not know what you're talking about," Fauci said.
Paul accused Fauci of "obfuscating the truth" and Fauci promptly returned the accusation to the senator.
"I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator," Fauci said. "If you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments, that were given in the annual reports, that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible."
Fauci went on to say that Tuesday's comment represents "a pattern that Sen. Paul has been doing now at multiple hearings based on no reality."
"He keeps talking about gain-of-function. This has been evaluated multiple times by qualified people to not fall under the gain-of-function definition," he said.