The White House renewed its call Thursday for an independent and ‘transparent’ investigation into the origins of the coronavirus that includes cooperation from China – after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee put out a report citing ‘circumstantial evidence’ for the lab leak theory.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called for exploring the ‘root causes’ of the pandemic after Republicans on the panel, led by Trump loyalist Rep. Devin Nunes of California, issued an interim report saying there was ‘significant circumstantial evidence’ that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
‘I would caution you against disproving a negative there which is never the responsible approach in our view when it comes to getting to the bottom of the root causes of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United States,’ she said in response to a question about the report.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called for a transparent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus
‘Our view continues to be that there needs to be an independent, transparent investigation,’ she said.
She said the investigation required the ‘cooperation and data provided from the Chinese government’ – which has denied administration requests to fully share it.
‘We don’t have enough info at this point to make an assessment,’ she continued.
Asked when Biden would call Chinese President Xi Jinping, Psaki responded that ‘We have made that call publicly many times’ and ‘conveyed that privately. And we have certainly communicated that they were not transparent from the beginning.’
The Republicans on the panel made their claim after infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over his claims about a Chinese lab leak – and statements about a conspiracy theory that U.S. backing was involved.
Many top scientists, while not ruling out the possibility of a human-caused event, point to the likelihood of the virus mutating and jumping form animals to humans, as has happened with numerous previous coronaviruses.
The report says U.S. agencies and academic institutions ‘may have funded or collaborated in’ gain of function research – after Fauci specifically denied government backing.
‘Based on publicly available information, the possibility that the outbreak originated from an accidental exposure at the WIV has not been disproven,’ it says.
It cites competing theories – including the virus originating from a Chinese wet market, jumping over from human contact with a bat or other species, or even through handling of imported frozen food – but then says it focuses on just one.
‘While Committee Republicans acknowledge there are differing theories on the origins of COVID-19, this review focuses on the WIV as a possible origin source,’ it says, referencing the Wuhan lab.
The report was released publicly Wednesday after first being obtained by Fox News.
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli (L) is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province on February 23, 2017. Two Chinese labs are located close by a wet market in Wuhan that scientists believe allowed covid-19 to proliferate
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (centre L) on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 27, 2020. – Opened in 2018, the P4 lab conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases and has been accused by some top US officials of being the source of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. China’s foreign minister on May 24 said the country was ‘open’ to international cooperation to identify the source of the disease, but any investigation must be led by the World Health Organization and ‘free of political interference’
Trump loyalist Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans on the House Intelligence panel produced the report
Psaki was asked whether Biden would press Chinese President Xi Jinping on the issue
The report, though cites ‘significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,’ without providing any direct evidence that it did.
It says China has a ‘history of research lab leaks resulting in infections’ and says the lab conducts ‘dangerous research,’ which risks the ‘accidental outbreak of a pandemic.’
The report follows repeated attacks by President Donald Trump on China after the virus outbreak. He frequently called covid-19 the ‘China virus’ in the run-up to the election and called it the ‘kung flu.’
It cites public reporting that Chinese researchers were sickened in the fall of 2019 with ‘COVID-10-like symptoms.’
‘By contrast, little circumstantial evidence has emerged to support the PRC’s claim that COVID-19 was a natural occurrence, having jumped from some other species to human’ according to the report, although it is not just the Chinese Communist Party making the claim.
Earlier this month, Paul and Fauci got in a tense exchange during a Senate hearing, where Paul accused the U.S. of potentially funding ‘gain-of-function’ research bats that could have gone awry.
‘This gain-of-function research has been funded by the NIH. … Dr. Fauci, do you still support funding of the NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan?’
‘Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect that the NIH has not never and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,’ shot back Fauci.
‘Could you rule out a laboratory escape? The answer in this case is probably not. Will you in front of this group categorically say that the COVID-19 could not have occurred through serial passage in a laboratory,’ Paul asked Fauci.
‘I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done and I’m fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China,’ Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responded.
‘However I will repeat again, the NIH and NIAD categorically has not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute.’
Fauci also told him: ‘I fully agree that you should investigate where the virus came from. But again, we have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. No matter how many times you say it, it didn’t happen.’
A report by the World Health Organization with the collaboration from China called a ‘zoonotic transmission’ from animals to humans ‘likely to very likely’ as the cause, although the administration has faulted the report as incomplete.