House Judiciary, Oversight Republicans launch investigation into NIH Wuhan lab grant
Early coronavirus research allegedly funded by US taxpayers sparks Comer-Jordan probe
EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees on Friday launched an investigation into a National Institutes of Health grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, which they say awarded taxpayer funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China to study the risk that bat coronaviruses could infect humans, Fox News has learned.
House Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote that there has been "mounting evidence the COVID-19 pandemic started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Communist Party covered it up."
In a letter, exclusively obtained by Fox News, written to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Comer and Jordan raised concerns that EcoHealth Alliance knew of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to cover-up the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to act or to inform the U.S. government.
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"If U.S. taxpayer money was used to develop COVID-19, conduct gain of function research, or assist in any sort of cover-up, EcoHealth Alliance must be held accountable," Comer and Jordan wrote. "It is incumbent upon grant recipients to ensure their work is performed within the scope of the grant, advances our national interest, and protects our national security."
"Gain of function" research typically involves modifying a virus to make it more infectious among humans.
Comer and Jordan called for all documents and communications between the NIH, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and EcoHealth Alliance regarding the grant, as well as those resulting from any U.S. government-led inspection of the WIV arranged by EcoHealth Alliance. Comer and Jordan also called for a staff-level briefing no later than June 4.
Last summer, the NIH sent a letter to EcoHealth Alliance expressing concern over its relationship with the WIV and suspended its grant, pending answers to several questions, including about the disappearance of a scientist who worked at the lab, a disclosure of "out-of-ordinary restrictions" placed on the lab in October 2019, and allow a U.S. government-led inspection of the lab.
Comer and Jordan wrote that it was unclear, at this point, whether any of those questions were answered, or if the U.S. government-led inspection took place.
In the letter from NIH to EcoHealth, first reported by the Wall Street Journal in July 2020, NIH told the company its funding would be frozen amid concerns that the Wuhan Institute of Virology may not have been following safety standards, and that EcoHealth was not properly monitoring the Wuhan lab’s activities.
The letter, which Fox News obtained Friday, claimed NIH "received reports that the Wuhan Institute of Virology… has been conducting research at its facilities in China that pose serious bio-safety concerns, and, as a result, create health and welfare threats to the public in China and other countries, including the United States."
"This investigation is more urgent now considering the recent report that, according to U.S. intelligence sources, three researchers from the WIV became ill and sought hospital care in November 2019," Jordan and Comer wrote, adding that the CCP "did not report any COVID-19 cases until December 2019."
"Based on this new timeline, it is likely COVID-19 was circulating worldwide three months before anyone outside of China was informed of its existence," they wrote.
"Despite U.S. intelligence concerns about the ability of the WIV to properly contain the deadly diseases including the virus that causes COVID-19¾they study, EcoHealth still awarded U.S. taxpayer grant funds to the WIV," they continued. "Intelligence reports stated, ‘during interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, [U.S. officials] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.’"
They added: "This is alarming."
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"To prevent future pandemics, Congress is obligated to conduct robust oversight of grant recipients, both current and historic," they wrote. "It is vital to understand if U.S. taxpayer funds were at all affiliated with a pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans so we can prevent similar future catastrophes."
But, during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on NIH’s fiscal year 2022 budget request this week, Fauci defended "modest" collaboration with scientists in Wuhan. Fauci, though, asserted that the agency did not allocate the money for "gain of function" research.
Fauci said it would have been "almost a dereliction of our duty if we didn't study this, and the only way you can study these things is, you've got to go where the action is," referencing the early-2000s SARS outbreak, which is presumed to have emerged from bats.
"You don't want to study bats in Fairfax County, Virginia, to find out what the animal-human interface is that might lead to a jumping of species," Fauci continued "So, we had a modest collaboration with very respectable Chinese scientists who were world experts on coronavirus, and we did that through a sub-grant from a larger grant to EcoHealth."
Fauci added: "The larger grant was about $600,000 over a period of five years, so it was a modest amount. The purpose of it was to study the animal-human interface, to do surveillance and to determine if these bat viruses were even capable of" infecting humans.
A spokesperson for EcoHealth told FOX Business on Tuesday its funding from the NIH was frozen with no guidance on when it will be unfrozen.
Earlier this week, President Biden asked the intelligence community to "redouble" its efforts in investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden released a rare such statement Wednesday, revealing that the U.S. intelligence community has "coalesced around two likely scenarios" for the origins of COVID-19, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident," and asked for "additional follow-up."
"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," Biden claimed.
But, it was China’s refusal to support the World Health Organization's investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that spurred the Biden administration to accelerate the declassification of U.S. intelligence and the release of the president’s statement Wednesday, Fox News has learned.
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The Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of China's top virus research labs, built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and has faced criticism over its transparency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere or was even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.