The U.S. government is attempting to withhold many of Dr. Anthony Fauci's email communications with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Defendants object to this Request as overbroad because it calls for documents that are not relevant to Plaintiffs’ claims and that do not fall within scope of discovery authorized by the Court," government lawyers said on behalf of Fauci and the agency he directs, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in a brief made public this week.
A federal judge ordered defendants to comply with discovery requests concerning “the identity of federal officials who have been and are communicating with social-media platforms about [misinformation and] any censorship or suppression of speech on social media, including the nature and content of those communications.”
"Further, to the extent this Request seeks any purely internal documents or records, Defendants object to the Request as not proportional to the needs of the case, as it would require an extensive search of internal records that would not be possible to complete in the expedited period provided for current discovery and would be unnecessary in light of the external documents Defendants have agreed to produce," it states.
"Defendants also object to this Request to the extent it seeks documents protected by the deliberative process privilege, attorney-client privilege, law enforcement privilege, a statutory national security privilege, or any other applicable privilege."
NIAID has revealed that Facebook approached it in March 2020 to discuss COVID-19 and an interview with Fauci, and noted that Fauci agreed to an interview that was aired on Facebook Live. Fauci's name was redacted in the response, but his title wasn't.
NIAID Will Produce EmailsNIAID was also asked to identify all agency officials who communicated with social media platforms regarding content modulation and misinformation, and to provide communications with platforms regarding the Great Barrington Declaration, which Fauci has privately and publicly maligned.
NIAID will produce non-privileged emails between defendants, including Fauci, and employees of the platforms concerning misinformation, but only those that can be identified in searches containing one or more search terms, the government lawyers said.
In a filing on Aug. 31, plaintiffs told the judge that the government has "steadfastly refused to respond to any interrogatories or document requests" directed to White House officials such as Fauci, who is also the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
Plaintiffs said disputes that remain unresolved include whether Fauci should be compelled to respond. They asked U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee who is overseeing the case, to compel Fauci and others who haven't responded to respond.
Emails Previously ReleasedSome of the messages between Zuckerberg and Fauci were previously made public.
One dated Feb. 17, 2020, showed Zuckerberg telling Fauci that he was glad to hear Fauci's statement that a COVID-19 vaccine would be ready for human trials in six weeks.
"Are there any resources our foundation can help provide to potentially accelerate this or at least make sure it stays on track?" Zuckerberg asked.
Fauci answered the next day, thanking Zuckerberg for the missive.
"We may need help with resources for the phase 2 trial if we do not get our requested budget supplement," Fauci said. "I believe that we will be OK. If this goes off track, I will contact you. Many thanks for the offer. Much appreciated."