White House says there is STILL no ‘consensus’ on how COVID began
The White House on Monday was forced to admit the lack of a consensus between disparate U.S. agencies about the origins of COVID-19 following a report that Energy Department Scientists believe a laboratory leak in China was the likely cause.
‘There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how it started. There’s just not an intelligence community consensus,’ said national security spokesman Adm. John Kirby.
Kirby got hit with a series of questions about the report, which pointed to the lab leak as a likely source – even as other agencies attributed the pandemic to a virus that mutated in the environment.
Kirby pointed to that lack of agreement, even as the White House defended infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci‘s blasts against conspiracy theories and refused to say how the U.S. might act against China if the theory that its labs were responsible holds up.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, following a report of an Energy Department analysis that points to a Wuhan lab leak as the origin of COVID-19
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to ‘political attacks’ on Fauci, who ‘spent his career saving lives.’
‘These attacks have been counterproductive. They have not been helpful. This is someone again, his entire career, fighting for the well being and health of the American people. So I just want to call out again, it’s not been helpful. Dr. Fauci himself has said he agrees with the President, that we need to get to the bottom of this,’ she said.
Kirby avoided responding directly to new comments out of Beijing, which ripped what the foreign ministry termed ‘politicization’ of COVID-19.
‘There’s not been a definitive conclusion. So it’s difficult for me to say, nor should I feel like I should have to, defend press reporting about a possible preliminary indication here,’ Kirby explained.
‘What the President wants is facts,’ he said – pointing to Biden’s decision to seek input from the network of national labs operated by the Energy Department.
‘He wants the whole government designed to go to get those facts, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re just not there yet,’ he said.
Kirby also dodged questions about whether the intelligence community would make its conclusions about COVID-19 public, as Senate Republicans called for the administration to release intelligence information that underlies the Energy Department’s conclusions.
‘We’re just not there yet. When we’re there, if we have something that is ready to be briefed to the American people and the Congress, then we’re going to do that,’ he said.
‘Let’s not get ahead of where we are in the process right now. There is not a consensus on what caused COVID to start,’ Kirby said.
The response from the White House podium came after China‘s foreign ministry pushed back at the Energy Department’s analysis that the outbreak likely originated with a leak from a Chinese research lab in Wuhan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning accused unnamed parties of trying to smear or vilify China – even amid continued calls for China to provide full access to information from its Wuhan facility.
‘Certain parties should stop rehashing the “lab leak” narrative, stop smearing China and stop politicizing origins-tracing,’ she said during a press briefing Monday
‘The origin of the novel coronavirus is a scientific issue and should not be politicized,’ the Wall Street Journal wrote following its own report Sunday on the new Energy Department findings about an accidental leak, rather than a likely origin that jumped from animals in close contact with humans.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning blasted what she termed ‘politicization’ of theories on the origins of COVID-19, after an Energy Department analysis that pointed to possibility of a leak from the Wuhan lab
She talked up Chinese cooperation with investigating agencies, although in 2021 China rejected a World Health Organization effort to hold a second phase of its investigation. The group has denied abandoning its inquiry amid China’s obstacles.
Congressional Republicans, who have previously talked up the lab leak theory, seized on the new report.
‘Re. China’s lab leak, being proven right doesn’t matter. What matters is holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable so this doesn’t happen again,’ tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted the report on the Energy labs, adding: ‘For years, Anthony Fauci and Biden officials called this a conspiracy,’ she wrote, going after the former head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Energy Department, which maintains a group of national labs, now joins the FBI in getting behind the possibility of a lab leak as the possible origin of the virus – although it reached the conclusion with ‘low confidence’ and numerous other agencies back a traditional spread originating in the environment.
The Energy Department has reversed its previous position and has used new research to conclude that the COVID-19 virus most likely leaked from a Chinese research lab.
The new conclusion was issued in an update to a 2021 document prepared by Director of National Intelligence and was recently provided to White House lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
The Energy Department has now therefore joined the FBI in saying the virus likely spread from a lab in Wuhan. However, four other agencies are still said to favor the ‘natural spillover’ theory that the virus escaped via an animal at a nearby meat market. Two agencies, one of which is the CIA, are yet to declare a definitive position.
The Energy Department’s change of tune is important because the agency is known for its expertise as it oversees various US laboratories, some of which carry out biological research.
The Energy Department has reversed its position and concluded based on new intelligence that the Covid-19 virus most likely leaked from a Chinese research lab. Pictured is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in February 2021
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that there was still ‘no definitive answer’
The FBI concluded in 2021 – with what it said was ‘moderate confidence’ – that the virus leaked from a lab. The Energy Department has switched its position and done so with ‘low confidence’, the WSJ reported.
US officials told the publication that although both departments are in agreement, they formed their conclusions for different reasons.
The FBI also has expertise in disease and virology as it hires microbiologists and immunologists as part of its efforts to protect the country against bioterrorism and weapons.
The government officials who revealed the Energy Department’s change of stance would not comment on what new intelligence it based its conclusion on.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that there was still ‘no definitive answer’.
‘Here’s what I can tell you. President Biden has directed, repeatedly, every element of our intelligence community to put effort and resources behind getting to the bottom of this question,’ he said.
‘If we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people. But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.’
Sullivan pointed to a ‘variety of views in the intelligence community. ‘Some elements in the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them have said they just don’t have enough information to be sure.’
Virologist Shi Zheng-li – nicknamed the ‘Bat Lady’ – is pictured in the lab. She hunted down dozens of deadly COVID-like viruses in bat caves and studied them at the WIV
In January, the US Office of Inspector General openly criticized the National Institutes of Health for failing to properly keep up with US-funded virus experiments in China in the run-up to the outbreak.
The federal audit looked at three taxpayer-funded research grants awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, run by British scientist Peter Daszak, between 2014 and 2021.
It found the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and EcoHealth failed to ‘understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action.
‘With improved oversight, NIH may have been able to take more timely corrective actions to mitigate the inherent risks associated with this type of research,’ the report added.
While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as conspiracy and xenophobic, a growing number of scientists have come around to the idea the virus may have escaped during an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The research facility is less than 10 miles from an animal slaughter market where the first series of human cases were clustered. Some experts also claim COVID’s unique spike protein, which it uses to infect people, shows hallmarks of engineering.
But others have deemed those scenarios unlikely and say that there is some indirect evidence that COVID did jump from animals at the Huanan Seafood Market, where animals known to harbor COVID including raccoon dogs, hedgehogs, rats and squirrels, were kept in squalid conditions.
Direct evidence for a natural or man-made origin has not been publicized.