President Joe Biden has asked U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” investigative efforts on the origin of COVID-19, including a theory that it originated from a lab outbreak in Wuhan, China. His announcement comes a day after reports that claim Biden ended a prior investigation spearheaded by Trump.
In a White House statement on Wednesday, Biden said he ordered the intelligence community (IC) in March to look into whether COVID-19 originated from natural transmission from animal to human hosts or if it resulted from a laboratory accident.
“While two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,” Biden said.
Biden said he has now asked the IC to “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.” He added, “As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.”
Biden’s announcement came a day after CNN reported, based on accounts from three sources familiar with the decision, that the Biden administration ended a Trump-era investigation into whether the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began with an outbreak from a Chinese virology lab.
CNN reported the previously unreported investigation had been launched by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was run through the State Department’s arms control and verification bureau. CNN reported those involved in the investigative effort described it as an honest effort to probe the origins of COVID-19.
Fox News also reported on the fate of the alleged investigation on Wednesday and reported David Asher had been contracted to lead the Trump-era effort. Asher, whose past investigatory history includes tracking money to North Korea and Pakistan’s nuclear programs and to Al Qaeda leaders, told Fox News that some U.S. State Department officials “were deliberately playing down possible links to China’s biological weapons program” and COVID-19.
“We don’t know for certain what happened in Wuhan but we had every reason to investigate and ask questions,” Asher added. “As the State Department’s Jan. 15 statement said – and as additional disclosures and expert analyses of the last few months have underscored – there is probable cause for deep suspicion.”
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price denied the Biden administration shut down the Trump-era investigation.
“There has been incorrect reporting that the Biden-Harris administration shut down an investigation by the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control and Verification (AVC) into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic” Price said.
Price said the investigative work ended after they delivered reports in February and March, and said, “All relevant parts of the Department continue to work with the interagency on this matter.”
CNN reported the Biden administration stopped further investigation, citing concerns about the quality of evidence being presented. CNN also reported the investigation had been undermined by concerns it was being used by the Trump administration to blame China for the outbreak of COVID-19.
The allegations regarding this effort to investigate the origins of COVID-19 come days after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee issued a letter alleging the intelligence community suppressed views and intelligence materials challenging the view that COVID-19 had a natural origin and that the intelligence community relied on investigators with conflicts of interest when it expressed the view that COVID-19 had an origin in nature.
The efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19 during Trump’s presidency became a politically contentious issue, and CNN reported at the time that Trump’s support of the lab outbreak theory was contradicted by the intelligence community. The New York Times also asserted, in April of last year that “Trump’s aides and Republicans in Congress have sought to blame China for the pandemic in part to deflect criticism of the administration’s mismanagement of the crisis in the United States.”
Opposition to lab outbreak theory even saw the fact-checking outlet PolitiFact describe the idea as a “debunked conspiracy theory.” PolitiFact has recently archived an article expressing that negative assessment of the lab outbreak theory and removed it from their fact-check database.
More evidence has begun to emerge in support of the lab outbreak theory and, after having previously expressed doubt in the idea, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said he would support investigating possible connections between COVID-19 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which has been theorized as the lab where the outbreak may have begun.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said on Tuesday that further investigations of COVID-19’s origins should be handled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In a White House press briefing, Psaki was asked what role the Biden administration should have in investigating COVID-19’s origins, to which she replied, “Well, the WHO would be the body that would be overseeing a transparent, independent, phase two investigation.” Psaki added that the WHO is “the appropriate body for moving this investigation forward.”
The WHO has previously been criticized for its handling of COVID-19 investigative efforts and in February the U.N. organization declared the lab outbreak theory “extremely unlikely” and WHO scientist Peter Ben Embarek said the lab theory “is not a hypothesis that we advise to suggest future studies.” The WHO later adjusted its stance on the lab outbreak theory amid pushback. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”