- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2023

Republican lawmakers told President Biden on Monday to declassify the intelligence behind the Department of Energy’s conclusion the coronavirus pandemic most likely resulted from a laboratory leak in China.

It was unclear what intelligence led energy officials to make the conclusion, which was issued with “low confidence” — meaning a level of uncertainty remained. Officials updated their assessment based on new intelligence, further review of academic literature and consultations with experts outside the government, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the conclusions in a classified intelligence report to Congress and the White House.

“Classified documents leaked (they should be declassified!) showing scientists at DOE believe COVID leaked from Wuhan Lab,” Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, pointed to legislation he sponsored to make all intelligence related to the virus’s origins available to the American public.

“President Biden needs to declassify everything we know today,” he tweeted Monday.

The new assessment adds another layer of confusion to the conflicting assessments from the U.S. government. Multiple agencies have been trying to pinpoint the source of the virus for years.

The virus was initially blamed on a wet market in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first detected in 2019 before spreading around the globe in early 2020 and killing nearly 7 million people.

The lab-leak theory, which was initially discredited as disinformation by the political left, gained credence late in the Trump administration and was bolstered by evidence that some workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized for flu-like illness before the virus exploded across the city.

Mr. Paul and other conservatives have blasted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of infectious diseases search at the National Institutes of Health, for downplaying the lab-leak theory in favor of the natural-spillover theory.

During interactions with lawmakers, Dr. Fauci maintained the natural pathway seemed more likely but told lawmakers he favored more investigation.

 “I have always said that the high likelihood is that this is a natural occurrence. I didn’t dismiss anything, I just said it’s a high likelihood that this is a natural occurrence from the environment of an animal reservoir that we have not yet identified. And I still maintain that,” he told Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, in May 2021. “Because no one knows, including me, 100% what the origin is — is the reason why we’re in favor of further investigation.”

The FBI previously concluded with moderate confidence that a lab leak was responsible for the virus’s spread, while intelligence agencies have determined with low confidence the virus emerged from natural channels, according to a review Mr. Biden ordered in 2021.

“There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how COVID started,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Monday

Mr. Kirby declined to confirm or comment on the new reporting about the Energy Department and its findings. He credited Mr. Biden with making the virus’s origins a priority and said it is an ongoing effort.

“The president believes it’s really important that we continue that work and that we find out as best we can how it started to we can prevent a future pandemic,” Mr. Kirby said.

“We’re just not there yet,” he said. “If we have something that is ready to be briefed to the American people and the Congress, then we’re going to do that.”

U.S. officials say it will be difficult to come to a firm conclusion unless Beijing provides more assistance. The communist government has not been forthcoming, even suggesting the virus was spawned at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

China reacted angrily Monday to the Energy Department’s findings. 

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning pointed to a joint China-World Health Organization investigation that found a lab leak was unlikely.

“Certain parties should stop rehashing the ‘lab leak’ narrative, stop smearing China and stop politicizing origins-tracing,” she said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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