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House Republicans target Fauci, Blinken in effort to investigate Wuhan coronavirus lab-leak theory

Biden administration has also indicated interest in leak hypothesis

Published: May 8, 2021 12:07pm

Updated: May 10, 2021 12:55pm

House Republicans are stepping up efforts to investigate the "lab-leak" origin theory of the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic, demanding answers and documents from multiple high-ranking government officials regarding the possibility that the virus originally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. 

Multiple GOP leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last week asking for the State Department to "release unclassified documents and declassify other documents" related to controversial department claims that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was involved in dangerous coronavirus research prior to the pandemic. 

"The WIV has been a major focus for the U.S. government and the World Health Organization (WHO) in examining the origins of COVID-19 and the possibility of a laboratory leak," the representatives said in the letter, asking Blinken for a response by May 20. 

Focus on the lab has been growing in recent weeks, driven in part by official dissatisfaction with the World Health Organization's probe into the origins of COVID-19. The WHO team concluded that the lab-leak theory was "extremely unlikely," but the Biden State Department has strongly implied that it is skeptical of that assessment.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, meanwhile, indicated that the U.S. intelligence community considered the lab-leak theory a viable hypothesis, with officials "continuing to work on this issue and collect information," as she claimed. 

In another GOP letter last week, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher asked White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci for information on the U.S.'s past funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including what kind of research was supported. 

Among the more controversial pieces of the Wuhan lab puzzle has been Fauci's proximate involvement in bankrolling it: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci has headed for decades, sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lab by way of the U.S. biomedical nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance. 

That funding went directly to the lab's years-long coronavirus research, with scientists there attempting to determine the "spillover potential" of coronaviruses ostensibly in an effort to get ahead of the next pandemic. Some scientists and critics have claimed that those experiments constituted "gain-of-function" research, in which the pathogenicity of viruses are enhanced to study their potential infectiousness. The National Institutes of Health has denied those claims. 

If the lab was indeed the source of the pandemic, then Fauci's role in funding it for years could tarnish his professional reputation, as well as embarrass the Biden administration for having elevated and celebrated Fauci over the past several months.

Gallagher in his letter asked Fauci "how much U.S. government funding has gone to the WIV over time, and how much of that supported gain-of-function research," as well as what Fauci knows, if anything, about reports of sick researchers at the lab months before the pandemic officially began. 

The letters from the House Republicans are likely just the opening sorties in what's shaping up as a lengthy and labor-intensive effort to determine the origins of SARS-Cov-2. The largest hurdle may ultimately be not U.S. federal officials but, rather, China's communist leaders, who are notoriously secretive and given to coverups. 

The World Health Organization's origin mission was itself criticized for being too deferential to Chinese interests. The researchers themselves — among whom were EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak — reportedly only spent one day at the Wuhan lab.