Biden said an initial report he requested earlier this month on whether the virus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory incident in China was not concluding, it therefore asks for a second report in 90 days to “bring us closer to a final conclusion.” “
“To date, the US intelligence community has ‘coalesced around two probable scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this issue,” Biden said in a statement. “Here is their current position: ‘While two elements of IC lean towards the first scenario and one leans more towards the second – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements feel that there is no enough information to assess one. more likely than the other. “”
While the Biden administration has so far said the World Health Organization should investigate further and pressure China to be more transparent about what happened, the statement by Biden on Wednesday called on the U.S. intelligence community, not scientists, to lead the effort.
Deputy Senior Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, interviewed several times Wednesday on what motivated Biden’s directive, said: “What has changed is that he wants to give 90 more days to dig. a bit more “.
His statement, however, follows growing pressure from Republicans and the scientific community – dissatisfied with efforts by the World Health Organization and China – to identify an origin more than a year after a pandemic that killed over 3.5 million people worldwide and nearly 600,000 Americans.
Biden’s advisers recently stepped up calls for further WHO investigation
The statement also comes after senior administration officials this week faced a barrage of questions from Republicans about whether Biden was doing enough to investigate the origin of the virus and put pressure on it. China.
COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said during a White House briefing on the pandemic on Tuesday that a new investigation into the origin was “a key priority for us.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this, and we need a fully transparent process from China. We need the WHO to help in this area. We don’t feel like we have that now, ”Slavitt said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra also told a virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly on the same day that there was a need for “transparent and science-based” monitoring of origins of the pandemic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday speaking to the Wall Street Journal reporting that U.S. intelligence showed three researchers at the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan required hospital treatment for symptoms of COVID type in November 2019 – said the report was not from US intelligence. community but did not try to discredit it otherwise.
“We don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion on the origins,” Psaki said, adding that the president continued to push for an independent international investigation following a WHO report in March. not meeting expectations.
Unlike Biden, Psaki, when asked if the United States should be spearheading this effort, called on the WHO – not the American intelligence community – to take the lead.
“Once again, the WHO, which we joined when the president took office, is the body we lobbied and is the appropriate body to move this investigation forward,” she said. declared.
The WHO lacks real enforcement capacity, relies on international cooperation and has repeatedly expressed concerns that Chinese authorities have withheld information.
Scientists had hoped that a long-awaited WHO report in March would shed more light on the question of origin, but the report did not come to a definitive conclusion and was subject to extensive review. He referred to a lab leak as a possibility, but ultimately downplayed this scenario as “extremely unlikely,” instead saying the virus has likely passed from animal to human.
The lingering mystery of the origin of the virus, coupled with a lack of transparency on the part of China, fueled questions from Senate Republicans health experts Biden on Wednesday.
In a hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., insisting that no intermediate host for COVID-19 has been found, asked Biden’s chief COVID-19 adviser, the Dr Anthony Fauci, how long would it take before the United States. might conclude that the virus came from a lab. Fauci declined to give a deadline.
“I don’t think we can give a piece of time on this senator, for the simple reason that we still have not yet confirmed what the Ebola host is,” Fauci replied, referring to this. epidemic years ago.
“I think we should send a clear signal to China,” Graham said, “which seems to be the source of a lot of pandemics, that if this were to happen in the lab, expect something to happen because that if we don’t, we’ll just reinforce that in the future. ”
When Senator Mike Braun, R-Ind., Urged Fauci and National Institutes of Health Director Dr Francis Collins to commit to asking Biden to declassify information on the origin of the virus, they refuse. Fauci and Collins said they believe the virus “came about naturally” – but they haven’t ruled out the theory of where the lab leaks came from.
“We can’t rule out the possibility of some sort of lab accident,” Collins said, stressing that he and Fauci also support further investigation.
“I still believe the most likely scenario was that it was a natural event, but no one knows that 100% for sure,” Fauci said. “And since there is a lot of worry, a lot of speculation, and since nobody knows for sure, I think we need the kind of investigation where there is open transparency and all the information available to be released. available for review. “
Biden’s new call for an investigation by the US intelligence community – rather than relying on the WHO – also follows a group of leading scientists earlier this month, writing a letter to Science Magazine which concluded: ” Theories of accidental laboratory release and zoonotic fallout both remain viable. ”
Trump: “I was right”
Under the Trump administration, the State Department launched an internal investigation through its office of arms control and verification of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether the Wuhan laboratory was responsible for the “leak” of the virus.
Challenging a CNN report on Wednesday, the Biden administration said it did not end the investigation prematurely, but only after its findings were released in February and March. “With the report delivered, the job was done,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told ABC News.
Price said there were still “serious questions about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins” in China. He called China’s recent comments that its role in any investigation is comprehensive “disappointing and at odds with the rest of the international community.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who launched the report and repeatedly pushed the theory that the Wuhan Institute of Virology disclosed the virus, suggested on Wednesday that the administration’s decision was political.
“President Biden Sides With China, WHO, Liberal Media On Wuhan Virus – Joining ‘Nothing To See Here’ Crowd In Shutting Down Departmental Origin Of Pandemic Investigation state that I started, ”Pompeo tweeted. “It’s not political. America must lead by example. “
“Remember, China has a history of infection in the world, and they have a history of running substandard labs,” Pompeo told ABC News last May. Trump claimed a week earlier that he had seen evidence giving him a “high degree of confidence” that the lab was behind – but declined to give further details.
With lab leak theory receiving new attention, Trump released a statement this week, saying, “Now everyone agrees I was right when I called Wuhan very early on as the source of COVID-19, sometimes. called China virus. . “
Conor Finnegan, Jordyn Phelps, Justin Gomez, Matthew Vann, Cheyenne Haslett and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.