Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., challenged Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra's refusal to provide unredacted emails from former National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci regarding COVID-19's origins.
During Wednesday's Senate Finance Committee hearing on President Joe Biden's budget request for the department, Johnson asked Becerra whether he believes it is important to understand how the virus originated, to which the secretary answered "absolutely."
Johnson continued to question Becerra, asking him if there is a department employee "spearheading the investigation" into the origin of the virus. Becerra responded that HHS’s inspector general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are "doing a scrub," saying, "We're all trying to get as much information. The difficulty is that we're not getting a lot of cooperation from some of the sources externally that could probably give us a better understanding."
Johnson then interjected, saying, "Well, let's talk about a lack of cooperation; because I'd say the same thing is true in terms of cooperation out of the agencies." The senator then asked Becerra if he believes the public has a "right to know" how tax dollars are being spent and how the government is operating.
After Becerra answered that the "public does have a right to know," Johnson noted that there are two general methods for disseminating information to the public: Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional oversight.
"Would you agree that FOIA is generally subjected to more redactions than congressional oversight would be?" Johnson asked.
Becerra responded, "I wouldn’t say that, but we do have to be careful of what goes into the public domain with respecting confidentiality."
Becerra replied, "I understand there're some exceptions that are very explicit out there. A lot of them make sense. But I would argue, as many people do, that congressional oversight really is not subject to those same redactions, particularly when we have security clearances and we can take a look at classified information that is appropriately redacted under FOIA."
Johnson then said "let me give you a couple of examples" and pulled out a packet of documents from a 2021 court-ordered FOIA request of "4,000 pages of documents, primarily emails of Anthony Fauci," noting that five members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee asked for the unredacted documents and pointed to a law requiring the turnover of unredacted documents.
The committee dropped the number of requested pages to 400, received only 350, and asked for the final 50 for more than a year, Johnson said.
Johnson held up the packet of almost completely redacted documents, saying, "This is what 50 pages look like." He then asked Becerra if he will "commit to provide us the last 50 pages of communications between Anthony Fauci, Francis Collins, David Ferrar, as it relates to the origins of the coronavirus. Will you commit to that?"
Becerra responded that he "absolutely will commit to make sure we follow up with you on your request to get some of that information. Again, this is in compliance with the law that you receive the information. I don't know what particular statute with regard to disclosure was applied here, but you are absolutely entitled to the information that, by law, a member of the Senate or the House."
However, HHS is "redacting things" between agencies and organizations outside federal agencies when requested by Senate offices, Johnson stated.
"Again, these redactions are not complying with the law. We will follow up with you. I expect to see the unredacted 50 pages soon," Johnson said.
Becerra replied, "We complied with the law, senator. But we absolutely will make sure we follow up with you."
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.