Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., won unanimous Senate passage of the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 to declassify all U.S. intelligence related to the Chinese origin of the pandemic.
Congressional action was swift after a Wall Street Journal report that analysts at both the Department of Energy and the FBI concluded that the pandemic most likely resulted from a lab leak in Wuhan, China.
The newly created House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, chaired by Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, conducted its first hearing March 8 on the origin of the deadly pandemic.
A key witness, Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist who was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Trump administration, testified that COVID-19 was likely the result of an “accidental” leak from a research laboratory in Wuhan, China.
The Chinese military quickly assumed control over the lab, Redfield noted, and the Chinese government prohibited the release of any information on the new coronavirus without government approval.
Debunking “the Conspiracy”
Internal email communications between top National Institutes of Health officials and prominent virologists, obtained by Fox News, paint a troubling but incomplete picture.
On Jan. 31, 2020, Dr. Kristian Andersen, a top virologist at Scripps Research Institute, emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, then-director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and told him that COVID-19 had features that appeared to be genetically engineered.
Andersen then wrote: “The genome is inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” That view was shared by Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane University, who said that he couldn’t think of a “plausible natural scenario” for how the novel coronavirus evolved from a bat virus.
On Feb. 1, 2020, Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, convened a conference call with a group of virologists, including Andersen and Garry, to discuss the pandemic’s origin. On Feb. 4, four of the participants on that conference call agreed to author a research paper, which, in the notable cases of Andersen and Garry, reversed the views that they clearly had expressed earlier on the unlikelihood of a natural origin for COVID-19.
Congress obviously would want to know why these prominent virologists reversed their private judgment on the origin of the pandemic within just four days. After all, neither they nor anyone else had, or could have had, access to data or any relevant information from the hermetically sealed lab in Wuhan.
From hindsight, that February 2020 research project had all the appearances of a well-coordinated public relations offensive to create a dominant narrative among the press and the public: The deadly disease emerged in nature, not from a Chinese lab.
Until recently, that PR campaign was largely successful.
Consider the tight timeline:
- On March 7, 2020, Peter Daszak, president of the nonprofit research organization EcoHealth Alliance, along with 25 colleagues, published a remarkable letter in The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, proclaiming “solidarity” with Chinese colleagues battling the coronavirus and denouncing the lab leak as a “conspiracy” theory. Daszak’s controversial organization worked closely with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology on coronavirus research and was the recipient of $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
- On March 17, 2020, Scripps Research Institute’s Andersen as lead author, and colleagues including Garry, published a highly influential paper, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” in Nature Medicine, a prominent, peer-reviewed professional journal. SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the virus that causes COVID-19. Anderson, Garry, and the others concluded that the new coronavirus wasn’t the product of a “laboratory construct.” Incidentally, Andersen and Garry were awarded almost $90 million in research grant funding from Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- On March 26, 2020, Collins posts a blog on the NIH website titled “Genomic Study Points to Natural Origin of COVID-19,” which favorably cites the Nature Medicine article and describes the lab origin of the pandemic as an “outrageous” claim that has been scientifically debunked.
Majority staff for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic recently released the record of email communications among several prominent scientists, who conferred with Collins and Fauci on Feb. 1, 2020, including those who soon collaborated on a special research project to discredit the idea of a Chinese lab leak in Nature Medicine.
The subcommittee’s freshly unearthed evidence indicates a desperate effort to find facts—seemingly any facts—to fit a preconceived narrative. For example, in response to a July 2021 congressional inquiry, Scripps Research Institute insisted that Andersen, lead author of the Nature Medicine article, had “objectively weighed” the evidence for the natural origin of COVID-19.
However, as the subcommittee’s evidence shows, this commitment to scientific objectivity was “demonstrably false.” In fact, Andersen emailed German colleagues on Feb. 8, 2020, that his work was “focused on trying to disprove any type of lab leak theory.”
Although Scripps insisted that Fauci didn’t attempt to influence Andersen, the evidence shows that Andersen himself—in a Feb. 12, 2020, email to Clare Thomas, team manager at Nature Medicine—said that he had been “prompted by Jeremy Farrar, Tony Fauci and Francis Collins” to work on the article.
To date, scientists have found no animals, bats or otherwise, that were infected with COVID-19 before the first human infection. In positing a pre-human host for the novel coronavirus that would be the bridge to human infection, Andersen told The New York Times in July 2021 that pangolins seemed the most appropriate fit. A pangolin is a mammal, resembling an anteater, found in China.
But Andersen’s pangolin hypothesis required evidence. On Feb. 21, 2020, a peer reviewer for the Nature Medicine article commented:
The paper itself is interesting, but unnecessarily speculative. It’s not clear why the authors do not refute a hypothetical lab origin in their coming publication on the ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 in bats and pangolins. … Once the authors publish their new pangolin sequences, a lab origin will be extremely unlikely. It is not clear why the authors rush with a speculative perspective if their central hypothesis can be supported by their own data. Please explain.
In response to this reviewer, the record shows, Andersen said that he and his co-authors did not believe their article was “speculative,” but added, “Unfortunately, the newly available pangolin sequences do not elucidate the origin of SARS-CoV-2 or refute a lab origin.” Andersen added, “There is no evidence on present data that the pangolin CoVs are directly related to the COVID-19 epidemic.”
So much for the data.
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the British nonprofit Wellcome Trust, also made edits to the Nature Medicine article. Since then, Farrar has been tapped to become the chief scientist for the World Health Organization, an appointment generating controversy in Britain and elsewhere.
In assessing these supremely interesting academic exchanges, the subcommittee’s majority staff observe:
Privately, Dr. Andersen did not believe the pangolin data disproved the lab leak theory despite saying so publicly. It is still unclear what intervening event changed the minds of the authors of ‘Proximal Origin’ [in Nature Medicine] in such a short period of time. Based on this new evidence, the pangolin data was not the compelling factor; to this day, the only known intervening event was the February 1 conference call with Dr. Fauci.
Clarity is imperative. Although Andersen said that Fauci “prompted” the drafting of the Nature Medicine article, Fauci himself has insisted on his distance from the effort.
During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the NIH budget on May 11, 2022, Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va. (questioned Fauci directly on the topic. Here’s their exchange:
Cline: “All right … when the prospect of a lab leak from Wuhan gained traction in April 2020, Dr. Collins told you that you should find some way to ‘put down this very destructive conspiracy.’ We also understand that Dr. Collins emphasized that the lab leak theory could damage science and international harmony. Did you direct letters to two professional journals be written, to Lancet and Nature Medicine?”
Cline: “You did not ask Daszak [of EcoHealth Alliance] to write the letter to The Lancet?”
Cline: “Did you review it before it was sent?”
Cline: “I yield back.”
Although Fauci denied “reviewing” the letter to The Lancet before publication, he did later concede that he had been given successive drafts of the Nature Medicine article, but quibbled over the use of the word “review.”
On Nov. 23, 2022, in a sworn deposition in the case called State of Missouri v. Joseph R. Biden in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, an attorney for Missouri questioned Fauci on the Nature Medicine article concluding that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 was neither a “laboratory construct” nor a “manipulated virus.”
Attorney: “Do you know if you reviewed it when the preprint came out?”
Fauci: “It—it depends. I think I answered that question before, did I not?”
Attorney: “I’m just asking you again. I don’t remember what you said.”
Fauci: “Well, let me try and remember and make sure that it’s both true and consistent, that it is likely that this was sent to me. When you say review a paper, review means different things to different people. Did I look through it? Yes. Did I fully understand the molecular virology of it? Unlikely, because I’m not an evolutionary virologist. Did I make any substantive comments on it? Unlikely, because that would not be my position, since I’m not an evolutionary virologist.”
Attorney: “Now, you have been copied on four drafts of this paper prior to this on Feb. 4, 5, and 7. Correct?”
Later in the deposition, Missouri’s attorney noted that five of the authors of the article in Nature Medicine had participated in the conference call Feb. 1, 2020.
The attorney pressed Fauci on whether he had any role in helping them to formulate the article’s conclusion that the coronavirus wasn’t the product of a laboratory.
Attorney: “Did you have any input in formulating that conclusion between the time you got the preprint version from Dr. Andersen on March 8 and then the publication online on March 17?”
Fauci: “Mm-hmm. This is a conclusion of the authors. I’m not really sure of what you’re saying, did I have any input? I don’t recall conversation that we had—as I mentioned before, my input into the formulation of this was minimal, if at all. I remember reading through it. And I’m not quite sure what you mean that I have [sic] substantial input into the conclusion. That conclusion was based on the analysis by the authors.”
Congress must get greater clarity on Fauci’s role.
Following its first hearing on the origin of COVID-19, the House select subcommittee has extended an invitation to Fauci and Collins to appear.
These vital hearings can help provide closure for millions of aggrieved Americans, but they also can establish a firm foundation for forging a post-pandemic legislative agenda.
Elemental to that task, however, the subcommittee must determine what federal officials knew, when they knew what they knew, and how and why they responded in the way that they did.
Let there be sunlight.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal