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GOP seeks records on possible U.S. funding of research at Chinese lab

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A group of congressional Republicans is stepping up a push for records about a possible link between a U.S. medical research agency and a lab in Wuhan, China – a link that is still very much in dispute amid the ongoing investigation into the origins of COVID- 19.

In an exclusive interview, senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge spoke with Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who, along with other Republicans, has been requesting those records from the National Institutes of Health, including in a recent letter shared with CBS News. 

"We want to know what was funded through taxpayer dollars," said McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

The NIH recently confirmed that funds went to the Wuhan lab through the EcoHealth Alliance, an American research group but emphasized that its application "did not propose research to enhance any coronavirus to be more transmissible."

In the recent letter, McMorris Rodgers and other House Republicans said the NIH has "not provided a single document" about "whether NIH funding played a role in risky research in China."

Asked why those records still matter 16 months into the pandemic, McMorris Rodgers replied, "Think about every loved one that we've lost,  every health care worker that's been on the front lines of combating the coronavirus or every student now that is struggling with mental health because of isolation. We deserve these answers."

In a statement to CBS News, the NIH says it "has provided information requested by [Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers] both in a letter and a subsequent briefing ... [and] is currently working to provide additional information."

When asked by Herridge whether providing the specific records she's requesting would strip away the politics, McMorris Rodgers said, "Absolutely. We need to know the origins of COVID-19."

The committee's Democratic chairman, Frank Pallone, of New Jersey, told CBS News he's waiting for results from an intelligence review ordered by President Biden.

"This is a complex issue that unfortunately has become politicized by the Republicans," Pallone said. "The administration needs to be given the time to complete this important work. In the meantime, the Committee will continue to focus on expanding the COVID-19 vaccination program, bringing this pandemic to an end, and examining how we can be better prepared for the next one.  I also support an independent, international investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in China because it is essential that it be appropriately investigated by independent, scientific experts from around the world."

A former deputy assistant secretary of state, David Feith, told CBS News he had uncovered safety issues at the Wuhan lab. "There was work with very dangerous viruses carried out at biosafety Level 2, which has been compared to the safety level roughly of a dentist's office," he said.

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to Mr. Biden, pushed back against the claim that U.S. funds supported "gain of function" research that may have made the virus more dangerous.

In a heated exchange during a hearing, Republican Senator Rand Paul asked Fauci, "Knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11 where you claimed that the NIH never funded gain of function research in Wuhan?"

"Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement. … you do not know what you're talking about, quite frankly," Fauci responded.

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