GOP senators demand COVID-19, Wuhan documents from HHS, NIH

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A group of Republican senators is demanding a trove of documents on behind-the-scenes deliberation within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about the origin of the coronavirus and the possibility it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Rick Scott, R-Fla., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Rand Paul., R-Ky., authored the letter asking for the documents. The letter says the “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 emails the senators are referring to were released by outlets like the Washington Post and Buzzfeed via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Among the questions raised by the materials, according to the senators, are how seriously officials, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, took the lab leak theory before later dismissing it. 

“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,” the senators said in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and NIH Director Francis Collins. 

2021-06-11 Letter From Five… by Fox News

“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,” they continued. “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 letter, sent last week but released Monday, notes a handful of highly publicized exchanges, including one email Fauci sent to his deputy, Hugh Auchincloss. 

“Hugh: It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on,” Fauci wrote in an email with a subject line that referenced gain of function research. This email was among those obtained by Buzzfeed. “Read this paper as well as the email that I will forward you now. You will have tasks today that must be done.” 

“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,” Auchincloss said in an email to Fauci, which was also published by Buzzfeed. “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.”

Scott said Tuesday that Americans “deserve answers” about the origins of the pandemic that shut down the economy, killed hundreds of thousands and had rippling consequences through society, from increased drug abuse to children falling behind in school due to remote learning. 

“The American people deserve the truth and transparency that Senator Scott has been calling for since this pandemic started. We know the Communist Chinese government is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, and they lied to cover it up with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO),” a spokesperson for Scott said. “It’s been over a year since Senator Scott called for a congressional hearing into the WHO and its role in covering up the pandemic. Now, the American people deserve answers about how this pandemic got started and who is responsible. It’s time for accountability.” 

The senators, all members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are requesting unredacted copies of the recently released FOIA troves from the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and Judicial Watch. 

Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
(AP)

They’re also requesting very broadly “[a]ll records” from Fauci, Auchincloss, Collins and several other officials “referring or relating to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, COVID-19, coronavirus, EcoHealth Alliance, or Dr. Baric’s 2015 coronavirus study.”

HHS did not respond to a request for comment.

The possibility that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese lab was largely panned last year by the media and experts. But Fox News reported in April 2020 that some in the intelligence community were taking the lab leak possibility seriously. And emerging facts led many, especially Republicans, to put more stock in the theory in recent months. 

House and Senate Republicans have pushed the Biden administration to release more information on the possibility that China was at fault for allowing the coronavirus to escape from a lab. This has been done through other document requests, a bill that would force the president to declassify intelligence related to the lab leak theory and more. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and President Biden have also indicated in recent months that the administration takes the possibility of a lab leak seriously. But the White House has stood behind Fauci even as his recently released emails show he was concerned with the Wuhan Institute of Virology early in the pandemic only to dismiss the lab leak theory later. 

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