Uncovering COVID Origins: Why Congress Must Breach Biden’s Stonewall

COMMENTARY Public Health

Uncovering COVID Origins: Why Congress Must Breach Biden’s Stonewall

Dec 20, 2023 6 min read
Robert E. Moffit, PhD

Senior Research Fellow, Center for Health and Welfare Policy

Moffit specializes in health care and entitlement programs, especially Medicare.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, speaks during a briefing on COVID-19 at the White House on November 22, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Team Biden’s persistent lack of transparency on COVID-19 has been nothing short of scandalous.

An unnamed whistleblower claimed that NIH officials may have destroyed sensitive federal records related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

House investigators will have an excellent opportunity to refresh Fauci's memory on what he learned about the origins of the deadly disease,

Next month, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will interview Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD). After two days of behind-closed-doors interviews, the subcommittee will schedule a public hearing to take his sworn testimony.

Fauci’s testimony will doubtless cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from masking to vaccine mandates. But rest assured that congressional investigators will zero in on Fauci’s knowledge of, and response to, crucial information concerning the origins of the pandemic in China.

To secure a fully transparent accounting, House and Senate investigators are also pressing the Administration to release key details about what Fauci and his colleagues knew about the origin of the pandemic, and when they knew it. But Biden administration officials continue to stall the release of relevant information, offering transparently lame excuses, to block congressional access and public disclosure of unredacted documents.

Team Biden’s persistent lack of transparency on COVID-19 has been nothing short of scandalous. Here is the latest proof:

Exhibit A: Blocking Document Disclosure. In October 2017, well before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ping Chen, an NIAID official, visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and prepared a trip report for top NIAID officials.

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Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Johnson(R-Wisc.) learned of the trip four years later and, in August 2021, wrote HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak asking them to release unredacted records of Chen’s visit to Wuhan. In response, HHS instead provided a heavily redacted copy of Chen’s report, plus redacted emails.

In a subsequent briefing for Senate staff, Dr. Melanie Egorin, HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislation, said the redactions were for “security” reasons. But that excuse was clearly incorrect because, as the senators noted, HHS had already conceded that national security was not at issue and the documents themselves were unclassified. As Sen. Johnson remarked, “Given HHS’s extensive redactions of unclassified documents, I can only assume that the true nature of HHS’s ‘security’ interest is to protect itself from additional embarrassment over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sen. Johnson has since renewed his request to interview Dr. Chen and asked for a complete and unredacted copy of her report and related documents. Thus far, no response.

Exhibit B: Flaunting Federal Records Rules. On June 11, 2021, Johnson, Paul and three other Senate colleagues sent Secretary Becerra a letter requesting documents relating to NIH officials’ response to the pandemic’s origins. The senators had learned that Dr. David Morens, senior scientific adviser to Dr. Fauci, had emailed Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, on January 9, 2020, asking Daszak for any “inside info” on the novel coronavirus. Daszak replied that NIAID had been funding coronavirus research for “the past five years” and taxpayer monies had been funneled to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. For several years, Daszak’s controversial firm had indeed gotten substantial NIAID funding; and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which had been a center of China’s coronavirus research, had been a subcontractor of the EcoHealth Alliance.

According to Sen. Johnson’s account, upon receipt of the June 2021 letter, Morens told Daszak and a small group of his colleagues that he had retained “very few” documents on these “matters.” Morens cautioned the group to correspond with him outside of official channels at his Gmail address, adding, “I have tried to make sure I have retained no documents that might lead other members of ASTMH to be approached for similar document production.” (ASTMH stands for the “American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene,” Morens’ little group).

Among those receiving this Gmail warning were three prominent virologists, Dr. Kristian Andersen, Dr. Robert Garry and Dr. Edward Holmes, who had published a prominent 2020 article in Nature Medicine arguing that a COVID lab origin was “improbable.” That article was a sharp and rapid reversal of their original assessment of an “unnatural” origin of the coronavirus.

When Sen. Johnson learned in August of 2023 that Morens was apparently using his personal Gmail in communications concerning COVID origins, he wrote Christi Grimm, HHS Inspector General, asking her to investigate the apparent attempt to use to evade requests for public information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Johnson also told Grimm that an unnamed whistleblower claimed that NIH officials may have destroyed sensitive federal records related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a serious criminal offense with severe penalties. For their part, NIH officials claimed they conducted an internal investigation of that allegation, and determined to their own satisfaction that the charge was without merit. Satisfied that there was nothing more to it, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the agency charged with the preservation of official records, also dropped its inquiry into the matter.

Remarkably, Grimm rejected Johnson’s request for a Senate staff briefing on the controversy, claiming that it is standard practice to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of ongoing investigations. Johnson nonetheless renewed his request that Grimm investigate Morens’ use of Gmail to conduct agency business, the alleged NIH destruction of official agency records, and any effort by Morens or and others to evade the Freedom of Information Act. But she denied the request once again.

>>> Enough Is Enough: COVID Oversight Requires Tougher Congressional Action

In a November 15, 2023 letter to Secretary Becerra, recounting the foregoing facts, Senator Johnson tried again:

I request you immediately provide complete responses to my June 2021 and March 2023 letters on the origins of COVID-19—including responsive records contained in Dr. Morens’ Gmail account—produce all text messages or communications contained in Dr. Morens’ HHS-issued cell phones(s) dated from June 1, 2019 - present, and provide a detailed explanation for how HHS will hold Dr. Morens accountable for his apparent mishandling of federal records and potential violations of federal record keeping laws. I also request that HHS make Dr. Morens available for an interview with my Subcommittee staff. Please provide this information and interview by no later than December 6, 2023.

Thus far, no response. 

Closing In. Senator Johnson and his colleagues do not have subpoena power. As he told this writer, “I am attempting to convince Chairman Blumenthal to issue subpoenas to the non-responsive agencies. If that proves unsuccessful, you can rest assured that, if I become Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, subpoenas will be issued and enforced.” 

House Republicans do, however, have subpoena power. When Dr. Fauci testifies early next year before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, congressional investigators should probe his recollections concerning Dr. Chen’s report and Dr. Morens’ intriguing communications.

During his November 2022 deposition in the federal case of Missouri vs Biden, Fauci said he could not recall 174 times in response to questions related to the COVID pandemic. House investigators will thus have an excellent opportunity to refresh his memory on what he learned about the origins of the deadly disease, when he learned it, and how he responded.

This piece originally appeared in RealClear Health