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While Her Own Agents Protect Anthony Fauci, Inspector General Grimm Appears Frightened of Investigating the National Institutes of Health
Despite multiple criminal referrals from Congress and the NIH, Inspector General will only audit grants to improve performance.
5 minute read
UPDATE: In a previous version, a spokesperson for the Inspector General stated that they do not confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. After this story posted, the spokesperson confirmed that the Inspector General is not investigating EcoHealth Alliance grants.
Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm has received multiple notifications alleging criminal behavior by a grantee funded by Anthony Fauci, but has failed to investigate.
Last March, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) sent Ms. Grimm a letter demanding that she look into compliance with federal regulations by EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that Fauci’s NIH institute has provided with $15 million in grant money and that collaborates on research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A month later, Republicans on House Energy and Commerce sent Ms. Grimm another letter about EcoHealth Alliance, this time pointing to grant fraud.
“We understand that the office of HHS IG is conducting an announced audit into NIH grant management,” said a Republican aide, with the Energy and Commerce Committee. “We are not aware of any other activity by HHS OIG related to the NIH and the EcoHealth grant.”
Beginning last week, I sent the NIH a series of questions asking them to confirm how many referrals they had sent to the Inspector General about EcoHealth Alliance. Hill sources had told me that the NIH had sent the IG several referrals about EcoHeatlh Alliance, although the exact number is unknown. I also asked NIH to explain if the Inspector General had then contacted NIH for further information, or if the referrals were ignored.
“NIH does not comment on OIG investigations,” emailed an NIH spokesperson.
I then pointed out that it was public knowledge that the NIH had sent 51 criminal referrals to the IG and that I just needed to know how many specifically involved EcoHealth Alliance. I also asked NIH if they were still working with the FBI to investigate EcoHealth Alliance. The Intercept had discovered an email that showed the NIH was working with the FBI to investigate EcoHealth Alliance’s grants.
“NIH does not discuss internal deliberations on grant awards,” wrote back the NIH spokesperson.
I then explained that the FBI does not have jurisdiction over internal NIH deliberations and only gets involved in potential criminal activity. I then asked again for the NIH to explain if they were still working with the FBI to investigate EcoHealth Alliance’s grants.
The NIH spokesperson did not respond.
“OIG is not currently investigating EcoHealth Alliance,” wrote a spokesperson with the HHS-Inspector General. “Our current work plan states that OIG is reviewing NIH's monitoring of selected grants, and grantee use and management of NIH grant funds in accordance with Federal requirements. This is not an investigation.” She added that a recent tweet by a reporter with U.S. Right to Know misused the word “investigation” to describe their work.
“We use the term investigation to refer to law enforcement work that is looking into potential fraudulent or unlawful activity,” the spokesperson wrote. The current review, she explained, will assess NIH grant performance and offer recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
I then asked why the FBI was investigating the EcoHealth Alliance grants, but I did not see any IG agents involved in the emailed communications. Again, why is the IG not involved in investigating EcoHealth Alliance grants? “HHS-OIG’s Office of Audit Services (OAS) has expertise in identifying potential referrals to the Office of Investigations (OI) and, if necessary, OAS can refer matters such as grant fraud to OI for appropriate action,” the spokesperson explained.
So why has the Inspector General ignored referrals from the NIH and Congress and failed to investigate the grants Fauci provided to the EcoHealth Alliance? Critics point to the security detail the Inspector General now provides to Fauci, which is staffed by agents for the Inspector General—the same people who would be examining Fauci’s grants.
To clarify, the Inspector General agents who would be investigating “potential fraudulent or unlawful activity” and funding for EcoHealth Alliance are currently on protection detail … for Fauci. A classic conflict of interest.
To protect and investigate?
Since early 2020, a half dozen agents from the HHS Inspector General’s office have provided a security detail for Fauci, following a wave of threats posted online against him and his family. To serve as Fauci’s security, the U.S. Marshalls Service had to provide the Inspector General agents special deputations.
Late last year, Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research (Empower Oversight) sent a freedom of information request to the Inspector General asking for records on the budget and expenses for the Fauci security detail. “The public has an interest in understanding how limited HHS OIG resources are being allocated to simultaneously support its agents providing security for Dr. Fauci and investigate his role in grants from the [NIH] to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
During her confirmation, Inspector General Grimm was grilled by my former boss Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) about looking into problems with NIH grants. In later questions, he bore in further, asking the Inspector General to investigate the NIH grants that went to Wuhan, China.
“Get the records, the emails and the memos,” Grassley wrote to Inspector General Grimm. “Run the transcribed interviews and question everyone up the leadership chain. Leave no stone unturned and make as much public as possible.”
In response, Grimm demurred and said they were doing an audit.
I asked NIH who was paying for Fauci’s security detail and whether the NIH was reimbursing the Inspector General. The NIH spokesperson forwarded my request to Fauci’s institute, but I received no response.
I also asked the Inspector General how they were dealing with this obvious conflict of interest: IG agents protecting Fauci, when they might also be investigating him for grants he had funded for EcoHealth Alliance. How can they both protect and investigate?
The spokerson wrote that NIH reimburses HHS-OIG for the time agents spend providing security to NIH officials. She then explained that agents protecting Fauci are not involved in auditing NIH grants. However, she did not explain how IG agents can investigate NIH grants while they are also protecting Fauci.
A Senate staffer who had been looking into NIH grants for several years tells me that the Inspector General’s audit of the grants is not an investigation and is not what Senate staff wanted. “It is strange, because people have legitimate questions,” the staffer told me.
Some in Congress are considering legislation to create a separate Inspector General, just to oversee the NIH. “We’re frustrated that we can never get good answers.”
Note: This article was updated with responses from the HHS-IG.
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