Top US infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci has accused Republican Senator Rand Paul of spreading misinformation that has led to threats of violence and death against him and his family.
The pair had a heated back-and-forth at a Senate health committee hearing, with Dr Fauci accusing Mr Paul, the long-time Republican politician from Kentucky and supporter of former President Donald Trump, of distracting the public from the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said Mr Paul was focused on misinformed attacks rather than oversight aimed at addressing the healthcare crisis that has so far killed more than 800,000 people in the US.
Mr Paul's website accuses Dr Fauci of “ignoring good advice, and lying about everything from masks to the contagiousness of the virus” and on Tuesday the senator accused the government medical official of smearing other scientists who disagreed with him.
Dr Fauci said Mr Paul was distorting the truth.
“There you go again, you just do the same thing every hearing,” Dr Fauci told the senator, accusing him of making personal attacks that bore no relation to reality.
“He's doing this for political reasons,” Dr Fauci said, pointing to fund-raising appeals on Mr Paul's website next to a call to have Dr Fauci fired.
“It distracts from what we're all trying to do here today, (which) is get our arms around the epidemic and the pandemic that we're dealing with, not something imaginary,” Dr Fauci said.
Dr Fauci has faced sharp criticism from some conservatives and death threats from people who object to measures such as vaccination and mask-wearing that he has advocated to halt the pandemic.
He said misinformation had fuelled such threats.
Accusations 'kindle the crazies'
“What happens when he (Mr Paul) gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden, that kindles the crazies out there and I have … threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children,” Dr Fauci said.
Dr Fauci said on December 21 a person was arrested in Iowa who was travelling from California to Washington DC, allegedly to kill Mr Fauci.
Mr Paul accused Dr Fauci of making personal attacks against him and said no one wished violence on Dr Fauci.
Last month, Dr Fauci called for Fox News host Jesse Watters to be fired after Mr Watters made remarks about a “kill shot” while criticising the doctor.
Reuters contributed to this report