- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Five Senate Republicans are urging the leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to hand over records related to the origins of COVID-19 and China's Wuhan Institute of Virology following recent revelations within heavily-redacted emails from Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Sen. Ron Johnson, ranking member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, along with Sens. Josh Hawley, James Lankford, Rand Paul, and Rick Scott, sent a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and NIH Director Francis Collins on Monday. In the letter, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members wrote they wanted answers about NIH’s “handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The recent release of approximately 4,000 pages of NIH email communications and other documents from early 2020 has raised serious questions about NIH’s handling of COVID-19,” the GOP letter said. “Between June 1 and June 4, 2021, the news media and public interest groups released approximately 4,000 pages of NIH emails and other documents these organizations received through Freedom of Information Act requests. These documents, though heavily redacted, have shed new light on NIH’s awareness of the virus’ origins in the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic.”
Newly released emails from early 2020 sent by Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, show he seemed aware of the looming gain-of-function research and Chinese collaboration controversies. They also indicate Fauci worked behind the scenes to promote the natural origins hypothesis.
EcoHealth Alliance received at least $3.7 million from NIH from 2014 to 2020, and Peter Daszak — a key member of the World Health Organization-China joint study team — maintained a long collaborative relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, steering at least $600,000 in NIH funding to that lab for bat coronavirus research. He also criticized the Biden administration earlier this year for appearing skeptical of the WHO’s findings and defended China to Chinese Communist Party-linked outlets.
U.S. Embassy officials in China raised concerns in 2018 about lax biosecurity at the Wuhan lab.
The new GOP letter noted an email from Jan. 9, 2020, in which Fauci senior scientific adviser David Morens asked Daszak for “any inside info on this new coronavirus that isn’t yet in the public domain.”
The letter also pointed to a Jan. 27, 2020, message from Daszak to Morens with the subject line: “Wuhan novel coronavirus – NIAID’s role in bat-origin Covs” and the message, “Happy to have a phone call re: the Wuhan CoV, but just wanted to mention a few things for your information and hopefully to pass on to Tony Fauci for when he’s being interviewed re. the new CoV: NIAID has been funding coronavirus research for the past 5 years… Collaborators include Wuhan Institute of Virology (currently working on the nCoV) and Ralph Baric.”
The Republican letter highlighted the fact Fauci sent an email to NIH Principal Deputy Director Hugh Auchincloss on Feb. 1, 2020, with an attachment labeled “Baric, Shi et al - Nature medicine - SARS Gain of function.pdf” and the subject line, “IMPORTANT.” Fauci’s message had a tone of urgency, saying, “Hugh: It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on... Read this paper as well as the e-mail that I will forward to you now. You will have tasks today that must be done.”
Auchincloss replied to Fauci, saying, “The paper you sent me says the experiments were performed before the gain of function pause but have since been reviewed and approved by NIH. Not sure what that means since Emily is sure that no Coronavirus work has gone through the P3 framework ... She will try to determine if we have any distant ties to this work abroad.”
Fauci replied: “OK. Stay tuned.”
After a pause in 2014, HHS announced the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Framework in 2017, which was ostensibly set up to review any grants that might involve gain-of-function research. But, the 2019 renewal of EcoHealth grants was not subjected to the P3CO review.
During a Senate hearing, Paul pointed to the work between Baric and Shi as evidence of U.S. support for gain-of-function research in China and asked, “Dr. Fauci, do you still support funding of the NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan?”
Fauci replied, “Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
He added, “Dr. Baric is not doing gain-of-function research, and if it is, it is according to the guidelines, and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not in China … If you look at the grant and you look at the progress reports, it's not gain-of-function.”
An article in Nature Medicine published in 2015 following a study by Baric, Shi, and others noted, “Using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system, we generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014.”
An “editor’s note” added to the article in March 2020 added, “We are aware that this article is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.”
Baric was among several scientists who signed a letter in Science magazine in May arguing "theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable."
The Republican senators said Monday that “in order to better assist Congress in performing its oversight function,” HHS and NIH should hand over “all records” involving Fauci, Collins, Daszak, Baric, Shi, Auchincloss, Morens, and other Chinese and international scientists “referring or relating to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, COVID-19, coronavirus, EcoHealth Alliance, or Dr. Baric’s 2015 coronavirus study.”
A State Department fact sheet in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.”
The fact sheet said the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
“It is unclear the extent to which NIH officials, including Dr. Fauci, considered the possibility that the virus originated in a laboratory and what, if any, actions they took to seriously investigate this possibility,” the new GOP letter contends. “It is also unclear why NIAID officials eventually decided to downplay the likelihood that the virus originated in a laboratory and, instead, promote that it originated naturally.”
The GOP letter asked for “complete and unredacted copies of all documents and communications responsive” to Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Judicial Watch. It also requested similar FOIA requests by other organizations and outlets related to U.S. government officials, the Wuhan lab, and other coronavirus-related issues, which are listed on NIH’s online FOIA log.
Citing legal authorities, the Republican senators asked for the information “as soon as possible” but no later than the end of the business day on June 25.
Last year, Fauci laughed off the possibility that COVID-19 escaped from a lab, arguing "a number of very qualified evolutionary biologists have said that everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that it evolved in nature and then jumped species."
However, Fauci said last month he was unsure about whether he was still confident COVID-19 emerged naturally.
The U.S. intelligence community said at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” their investigative efforts last month. Those findings are expected to be delivered to Biden later this summer.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy