Rand Paul on the Lab Leak 'Deception'

Reason's Zach Weissmueller talked with the senator about his quest to uncover the origins of COVID-19 and hold Anthony Fauci accountable.


"When I first heard about the debate [over the origins of COVID-19]…I assumed that the scientists were being honest with us," says Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.). But his mind changed after reading a May 2021 article self-published on Medium by former New York Times science journalist Nicholas Wade. "As I began looking at this, the evidence, I think, was very, very strong that it came from a lab."

Paul, who has a new book called Deception: The Great COVID Cover-Up, famously clashed with former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci in multiple Senate hearings over the question of whether his agency funded risky "gain-of-function" research in Wuhan, China, that Paul believes may have resulted in the creation of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Gain-of-function research involves enhancing the transmissibility or deadliness of viruses in human tissue. Fauci denied ever funding such research, telling Paul in July 2021, "You do not know what you're talking about."

But Paul tells Reason that the evidence that Fauci was lying has been piling up since then.

"It's a felony to lie to Congress," says Paul. "It's punishable by up to five years in prison."

He referred the matter to Attorney General Merrick Garland for criminal prosecution but says he's received no reply.

"It is a huge cover-up [by] not just Anthony Fauci, but throughout the government. Eight different departments of government," says Paul. "The [National Institutes of Health (NIH)] is more secretive at this point than the CIA."

Paul has introduced multiple bills and amendments to cut public funding for gain-of-function research, to reform how the federal government funds scientific research, and to prohibit government officials from meeting with social media companies for the purpose of censoring legal speech.

"If Twitter wants to censor me or YouTube wants to take my speech down because I say masks don't work, that is their prerogative," says Paul. "But I do think that a consistent libertarian position is telling the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], [President Joe] Biden's spokesmen…that they can't be meeting on a weekly basis with either overt or implied threats of, 'You need to do this or else.'"

Watch the full interview here and find a condensed transcript below.


Reason: A central question in your book is, "Did the U.S. government fund research in Wuhan that directly led to the COVID-19 pandemic?" How strong do you think the evidence for that is at this point?

Paul: Well, you know, when I first heard about the debate or the debate began in spring of 2020, I assumed that the scientists were being honest with us, that previously pandemics had started in animals and been transmitted to humans. The first SARS epidemic in 2002, 2003, came from civet cats. They found the cats. They found that the handlers had antibodies, and then a group of scientists in the spring of 2020 said this is what happened. I really didn't pay much attention to it. But gradually, over about a year's time, particularly reading Nicholas Wade's article on Medium and other articles about this. Alina Chan's work and her book, [Viral].

As I began looking at this, the evidence, I think, was very, very strong that it came from a lab. First of all, they checked 80,000 animals in China and found no animals that had the virus. They checked the blood of the people who handled the animals to see if they had antibodies to the virus. That didn't occur either. They also looked at the genetic diversity of the original people that were getting ill. If a virus is coming from animals, it usually tries to take multiple leaps because it's not very contagious in the beginning. And so you have multiple different genetic varieties from the get-go. This one seemed to have a single source and a single genetic variety, very homogenous. Most people think that that also adds strength to the argument that it came from the lab. So the evidence, really, as I began to look at it, looked as if it probably came from the lab.

Then we found evidence that Anthony Fauci and the other scientists weren't being honest with us, that they were saying in private exactly what I was beginning to conclude, and that's that the virus, the evidence looked like the virus was manipulated and that they were very concerned because they do gain-of-function research in that lab. But in public, they were still telling me, and Fauci responded angrily to me, that the NIH never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan. It turns out in private, though, he was saying the opposite. He was acknowledging that it happened and that they had indeed funded it. So these things began to add up. But, in particular, the conversations [where] the scientists were saying one thing privately and saying another publicly is what really got me involved, intrigued in this issue, and really motivated me to bring it all together into this book.


How do you reflect on one of your famous exchanges with Fauci from July 2021, where you're asking him to correct the record after he denied that the government ever funded gain-of-function research?

Well, it's a great clip in the sense that his response is that his experts at the NIH have judged this up and down the chain, have judged this not to be gain-of-function research. Well, this is very intriguing. So what we have been requesting for two years is the discussion. If his scientists discussed and debated and concluded that this was not gain-of-function research, let us see the deliberations.

So one of two things are possible. Either he's overstating the case and the deliberations never took place or the deliberations took place and aren't quite as clear-cut as he's making it. And so far, the NIH has refused to reveal any of these documents. So these are not classified documents. But still, the NIH is more secretive at this point than the CIA. We can't get NIH documents or [Department of Health and Human Services] documents. There are several different articles or descriptions of discussions that we want. We have the name of them. They send it to us and it'll be 250 pages long, all redacted. So it's making it impossible for us to assess the truth, to have oversight. But it's also impossible for us to fix the problem if they don't let us examine what happened this time around.


There was a redacted email that really made me start to consider the level of deception that might be at play here. It was this February 2020 email that Fauci sent. This was with his inner circle of scientists talking about this phone call where they all agreed they were concerned early on that this was a lab leak. That concern was heightened by the fact, they say, that scientists in Wuhan University are known to have been working on gain-of-function experiments. It's clear in your book that you believe there's likely a level of deception here. If that proves to be true, what sort of consequences should there be?

You know, it's a crime, it's a felony to lie to Congress. It's punishable by up to five years in prison. After we determined that Fauci did lie to Congress, that indeed he had funded gain-of-function research, we submitted the evidence to the attorney general, to Merrick Garland, but unfortunately, he's not done anything with it.

A year later, when more evidence accrued, we referred him again for criminal prosecution. And yet nothing has been done. But the thing is, is that everything that he's saying there in private in that email, he's basically admitting it was gain of function. He knows that they funded it. He knows that the virus looks manipulated. And yet, at the same time, he was saying that this is essentially—February 1 of 2020, four days later, he commissions an article to be written in a journal by his cohorts. In the paper that they publish at Fauci's behest, they say explicitly that a lab-constructed virus is not a plausible idea at all. Not even plausible, not really to them, virtually possible. They in fact conclude in the abstract of that paper that COVID is not a laboratory construct—not that it probably isn't, it is not a laboratory construct. Meanwhile, saying privately, they think it's most likely. We have several of these scientists saying 80:20, 80 percent lab, 20 percent nature, you know, 50:50 some of them are saying.

Meanwhile, in public, they're acting with surety, they're acting with complete confidence. But really what they're doing is issuing a "nothing to see here" notice. It's a "cover your ass." Basically, they don't want people to draw the linkage because they know they're responsible for funding this research and that ultimately, culpability for the pandemic will attach to them. So it is a huge cover-up [by] not just Anthony Fauci, but throughout the government. Eight different departments of government were funding this type of research, and that's just the nonclassified. We think there's still more to be found.

One of the research papers that was leaked by a whistleblower is from 2018, where Dr. Shi [Zhengli] from Wuhan, Dr. [Ralph] Baric from UNC, and Dr. Peter Daszak [from] EcoHealth were asking for money and they wanted to take the coronavirus and insert a special cleavage site into it that makes it more infectious in humans. It's called a furin cleavage site. Well, that one didn't get funded, but that's exactly what COVID is. It is a coronavirus with a human cleavage site in it [that's] never been seen in nature. And yet when they saw COVID—you'd think if you were one of the people on that grant, you would have immediately called Fauci and said, holy cow, this new virus has the same sequence as the same grant that we're looking for in 2018 that we were going to help them with, beware, this is more evidence. And yet nobody told the public this. If they told Fauci, he suppressed it and we only found out about it not from record releases, but from a whistleblower who actually came forward and gave us this information. This is the real problem. 

There's this enormous cover-up within the government, and we still have to have the information come out because Democrats still need to be convinced that there is a problem, that we need to do something about gain-of-function research to try to prevent this kind of accident from happening again. 


You write at length about the whistleblower, U.S. Marine Major Joseph Murphy. Can you tell us about that?

The best theory is that the Chinese created a virus, COVID, in order to try to create a vaccine, to oppose it, to try to create a vaccine that would work for all coronaviruses. The person who was working on these vaccines, we know his name—General Zhou Yusen—and he's developing this vaccine sometime in 2019. But he has to have somebody develop a mutant coronavirus that actually infects humans well. We think that's what COVID was—developed in the lab to create the vaccine. We also know that Zhou Yusen got a vaccine, and he has it created by February of 2020. And most people think there's no way he could have gotten it that quickly unless he had been working on it for some time. We also know that this general dies mysteriously two months later. So there's a lot to be said here that what was going on is the creation of a virus, creating a gain-of-function coronavirus that would infect humans easily, and then creating a vaccine from that. And what happened is that it accidentally got out of the lab.

We also actually know the names of the three scientists who got sick in November of 2019. We actually know the names. Some people say these are patient zero and they got sick in November 2019. And yet the Chinese didn't admit to anything going on till January. Even in January, second week of January, the Chinese are still saying, "Oh, nothing to see here." We don't think it's transmittable between humans. Meanwhile, it's been cooking and growing for three months and they knew that wasn't true.


How should science funding in this country change, given the facts we've learned through this discovery?

We know this debate has been going on a long time. Some scientists engineered avian flu and made it transmittable through the air among mammals. And people were very concerned because avian flu is very deadly in humans. But fortunately, it doesn't infect humans very easily. So they had a big debate and they shut down gain-of-function research between 2014 and 2016. The problem was Anthony Fauci kept giving exemptions to all the people that were doing this research. And then in 2017, the pause on gain-of-function funding expires, and they set up a new committee, a pandemic pathogen committee that's supposed to review things for safety. All those things sound good, but then none of the Wuhan research ever went before the committee. In fact, the chair of the committee told me they only looked at three projects out of probably possibly hundreds of these gain-of-function grants that they were looking at.

I think you probably need a committee of scientists as well as people in the national security theater who are aware of what kind of weapons can be made from these viruses. You need them looking at it and trying to decide whether the taxpayers should fund this. I think rather than a blanket ban of just saying no gain of function, the problem is if you say no gain of function—Anthony Fauci already says all of these experiments, which were obviously gain of function, were not. So he just defines himself out of the rules, and I think they'll continue to do that.

But I think you need a committee. And the other thing about the committee is it has to be independent. They have to be able to review any grant throughout government. And they also can't be the same people getting the money. So, for example, there's Kristian Andersen, who does Fauci's bidding to write a paper, saying, "Nothing to see here." He got a $9 million grant the next month. So you can't have the people involved with determining whether something [is] safe also be getting grants from the people that are judging the safety. That's too incestuous to be a real oversight, but we think it can be done. Our hope still is that we could get a bipartisan bill out of this. We continue to try to work with Democrats every day to get them interested in the issue. The hardest part is just the lack of curiosity. The Democrats haven't really cared much about this. A million Americans died, and Democrats seem to be blasé about doing anything about it.


You also suggest in the book some sorts of controls over the actual materials that are used in labs to manipulate viruses, or bacteria, or other life forms. We're in the synthetic biology age now. How do you think about trade-offs in terms of not stifling scientific progress while at the same time making sure we don't have rogue groups creating super viruses that cause a global pandemic?

Most research goes to universities and to grant agencies giving to the universities. And so I think that can be policed through some sort of safety committee application of judging what is safe and what is not safe. But we live in an era, you're right, an era of synthetic biology. You can order, on the internet, the RNA to create the poliovirus. You can literally get on the internet right now and order the bits of it. If you know how to put it together, you can create the poliovirus from nothing. It's almost as if you're creating life. Now, a virus may not really be life because it has to live in a living cell, but essentially you're creating something that you can put into and basically bring alive from nothing. So I think there should be some rules on ordering this. We don't let you buy centrifuges online. We don't let you enrich uranium in your basement. This is, I think, equivalent to nuclear weapons and how many people can die from this. And so even being a libertarian and not believing in many government rules, this is one of the exceptions that I think the government could participate in.

The other thing is that since the government funds so much of this, even as a libertarian, there's no real restriction on how much you want to regulate government or regulate the expenditure of government funds. So I think there needs to be a great deal more done to this. And probably 95–99 percent of it will be government funds that need to be regulated more strictly.


One of the major frustrations throughout this entire ordeal is the way that speech was suppressed during the pandemic. I know you experienced that yourself. You were kicked off YouTube for your comments about masks. And we now know thanks to the Twitter Files, the FBI paid about $3.4 million to Twitter between October 20, 2020, and February 19, 2021, for its efforts to comply with their information requests. And you recently asked FBI Director Christopher Wray about that in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting. He said that they simply are compensating Twitter for taking actions to address criminal activity, not to engage in censorship. Do you believe him?

Well, he may be telling the truth. I think it's an open question, but there's the FBI. But there's also the Department of Homeland Security. We do know that they were working with Stanford University on internet oversight of all kinds of things, not just whether elections are being influenced by Russians, but whether or not what people are saying about vaccines [is true].

We do know from the Twitter Files that they have acknowledged—and also from the Missouri v. Biden depositions—that they have acknowledged that even things they felt to be true but harmful to the government position deserve to be censored.

The important part of this debate, though, is that we not get carried away. Many people on the right are carried away with how terrible Big Tech is, and they now want to regulate Big Tech or force Big Tech to take their opinions. I don't believe in that at all. Where I've decided to place my emphasis is on the government half of this equation. If the government is meeting with Twitter and paying Twitter to encourage them to take down constitutionally protected speech, we should limit government from that interaction. Government shouldn't be involved with trying to limit constitutionally protected speech. However, if Twitter wants to censor me or YouTube wants to take my speech down because I say masks don't work, that is their prerogative. They're a private company and I would never want to stop them. But it's important that we make this distinction because there are many on the right-wing populist part of particularly the Republican Party, who are saying, let's just tell Twitter they have to take conservative viewpoints or let's mandate [that]. I don't want that at all.

But I do think that a consistent libertarian position is telling the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, CDC, and the Biden White House that they can't be meeting on a weekly basis with either overt or implied threats of, "You need to do this or else." We know from the Missouri v. Biden case that there actually were threats of antitrust action being brought against Big Tech or getting rid of their liability protection if they didn't toe the line. That, to me, is a clear infringement of the First Amendment, and I think is going to be the decision that will be agreed upon by the Supreme Court hopefully in the near future.


This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.