Former President Donald Trump says he has “very, very little doubt” COVID-19 originated at a Wuhan laboratory as an increasing number of politicians and scientists say the lab leak hypothesis needs to be further investigated.
Dan Bongino had Trump on as a guest for the inaugural episode of his new radio program, The Dan Bongino Show, on Monday, and they talked about the potential origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Did you say ‘potential’? I don’t know, I think you could get the word ‘potential’ out,” Trump quipped, adding, “You said ‘potential’ that it came from the lab. I think you can take the word ‘potential’ out that it came from the lab, frankly. I think it came from the lab without the word ‘potential’ … I have very little doubt — and I mean very, very little doubt. It came from the lab.”
Officials from both the Trump and Biden administrations say the Chinese government has worked to thwart an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, which has killed 3.46 million people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, and both administrations have cast doubt on the manner in which the study from China and the World Health Organization was conducted in early 2021. Though the WHO-China report said a jump from animals to humans was most likely, Trump officials and Republican leaders especially have pointed to the possibility of an escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Trump’s remarks came the day after the Wall Street Journal published an article that claimed a “previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report” said “three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care.” The article said that “current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence for the assessment.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki refused to get into specifics when asked about the story on Monday. “We have no means of confirming that or denying that — I mean, it’s not a report from the United States,” she said.
When asked why President Joe Biden wasn’t pushing China harder for information, Psaki said,“We have repeatedly called for the WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins that is free from interference or politicization” and that “we need that information from the Chinese government.” She added: “What we can’t do, and what I would caution anyone doing, is leaping ahead of an actual international process.”
Trump raised the possibility of a Wuhan lab leak back in May 2020 during his own press conference, indicating he had confidence COVID-19 may have started in the lab.
“You know, every theory, whether you had the theory from the lab, you had the theory from many different — the bats … There’s a lot of theories, but yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly,” Trump said at the time. He added: “But it is a terrible thing that happened. Whether they made a mistake, or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one — or did somebody do something on purpose?”
A State Department fact sheet released in mid-January under the waning Trump administration contended that Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.”
“The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” the State Department fact sheet said.
The fact sheet also said that the Wuhan lab “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”
The Biden administration has thus far not weighed in publicly on that intelligence.
Dr. Shi Zhengli, known as “bat lady” for her work with coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab, denied in March that the Wuhan lab worked with the Chinese military and has denied in the past that COVID-19 escaped from there.
During an interview in March, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Washington Examiner that it is “a high-confidence assessment” that the Wuhan lab was working with the People’s Liberation Army. Pompeo told Fox News on Monday: “I am confident that we will find that the evidence that we have seen to date is consistent with a lab leak, and I am convinced that’s what we’ll see. If I’m wrong, I hope the Chinese Communist Party will come forward and make a fool of me.”
Matthew Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser, has said a lab leak is the most likely scenario, and Dr. Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director under Trump, told CNN in March that he believed the coronavirus escaped from the lab.
House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a report on the coronavirus pandemic last week, arguing that “there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence … to support a lab leak as the origination of COVID-19.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this month he is “not convinced” about COVID-19 emerging naturally, despite prior comments to the contrary, and said: “I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”
Trump also told Bongino that “our country used to pay for this stuff, too, and I ended it.” Fauci and Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, have been adamant in insisting that the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, while some scientists and elected leaders have said that is what the U.S. did.
Filings show EcoHealth Alliance received at least $3.7 million from 2014 to 2020, and Peter Daszak, a key member of the WHO-China joint study team and the leader of the EcoHealth Alliance, steered at least $600,000 in NIH funding to the Wuhan lab for bat coronavirus research. U.S. Embassy officials in China raised concerns in 2018 about lax biosecurity at the Wuhan lab.
In March, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, said the possibility of a lab leak needed further study despite it being deemed “extremely unlikely” by the team.
China denies COVID-19 originated in one of its labs. In April, the U.S. issued a rare rebuke of China‘s continued efforts to push “baseless” claims about COVID-19 originating with the U.S. military rather than starting in China.