An investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic that was launched late in the Trump administration by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was shut down by the Biden administration, according to senior State Department officials who spoke to CNN.
CNN noted the existence of the investigation and its abrupt end “comes to light amid renewed interest in whether the virus could have leaked out of a Wuhan lab with links to the Chinese military.”
CNN’s sources said the investigation by Pompeo and was an “honest effort to probe what many initially dismissed: that China’s biological weapons program could have had a greater role in the pandemic’s origin in Wuhan.”
It was being run mostly out of the State Department’s arms control and verification bureau, the report said. It was shut down when Biden officials raised questions about the findings.
“Sources involved in the Trump-era inquiry rejected criticisms over the quality of their work and told CNN their objective had been to examine scientific research and information from the U.S. intelligence community which backed the lab leak theory and shone more light on how it could have emerged in the lab,” the report said.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019 and sought hospital care.
Both Pompeo and President Trump had discussed evidence that supported a leak from the Wuhan lab, which had received a $600,000 subgrant from the U.S. overseen by Biden medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.
CNN sources said one focus of the short-lived investigation was whether the “lab leak” was in any way connected to China’s biological weapons program. The subject was reviewed under the State Department’s ordinary review of countries’ compliance with arms control treaties.
CNN cited critics who said they didn’t like the investigation because it was being done in relative secrecy.
One former State Department official told CNN: “They basically conducted it in secret, cutting out the State Department’s technical experts and the Intelligence Community, and then trying to brief certain senior officials in the interagency on their ‘tentative conclusions’ even before they’d let the department leaders they worked for know an investigation was underway at all.”
An unnamed source said the investigation was “just fishing” to justify pre-determined conclusions. Then-Assistant Secretary Chris Ford recommend caution regarding the findings of the investigation.
“Pompeo put out a statement as the Trump administration was leaving office that said the U.S. had determined collaboration between the Wuhan lab where Covid-19 research has been conducted on bats, and secret Chinese military projects. The process behind declassifying the intelligence in that statement took weeks, and certain details were scrubbed from the final version which was put out, sources familiar with the process told CNN. The State Department’s small group looking into the lab leak theory contributed to that fact sheet, but most of its information came from the U.S. intelligence community, sources told CNN,” the report said.
The Biden administration has insisted that the World Health Organization, which already has conducted a joint investigation with Beijing concluding the pandemic had a natural origin, should lead a new, more thorough probe.
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