Trump says he has seen evidence linking coronavirus to Wuhan lab
President Trump said Thursday that he has seen evidence linking the novel coronavirus to a lab in Wuhan, China, without providing further details.
“Yes, I have,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked directly whether he had seen evidence that gives him confidence the virus was tied to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“And I think that the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves because they’re like the public relations agency for China,” Trump added.
The president, noting that the matter was under investigation, declined to answer later when pressed on what gave him such confidence to link the virus to the lab in China.
“I can’t tell you that. I am not allowed to tell you that,” Trump said.
Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. intelligence community said it agreed with the scientific consensus that the virus was not “manmade or genetically modified” but confirmed that officials are investigating whether the outbreak began through contact with animals or as a result of a lab accident in Wuhan.
“As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security,” the Office of Director of National Intelligence said in a rare statement.
“The IC [intelligence community] will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement added.
The intelligence agencies have not pointed to any evidence that the virus emanated from a lab.
Trump on Thursday wouldn’t say whether he agreed with the intelligence community that the virus was not manmade, saying he hadn’t seen the DNI statement and questioning who issued it.
Trump suggested that information from the investigation into the origins of the virus was forthcoming, saying opaquely that China has been “somewhat transparent” and raising the possibility Beijing may have “made a mistake.”
Meanwhile, members of his administration like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a vocal China critic, have accused the government in Beijing of not being forthright about the origins of the virus.
“We need partners we can rely on that when they tell us something, it is accurate and that we don’t think they’re hiding anything,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday. “The world hasn’t gained access to the WIV, the virology institute there. We don’t know precisely where this virus originated from.”
China has denied the Trump administration’s accusations that it withheld information about the virus. A top official at the P4 research laboratory in Wuhan has also denied any link between the lab and COVID-19.
The theory that the virus came from a lab has been popular among China hawks and conservatives as they have sought to blame the Chinese government for the novel coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan and has infected more than 3.2 million people worldwide.
Trump has also sought to shift blame to China for the virus as he has come under scrutiny for his administration’s own handling of COVID-19, after initially praising Beijing for its handling of the virus. The president has frequently targeted the World Health Organization as well, accusing the global body of helping China cover up the outbreak.
Former intelligence officials say that, while no direct evidence exists tying the virus to a lab in Wuhan, it is worthy of investigation given China’s record on transparency particularly in the handling of viruses. China is said to have tried to silence doctors who tried to raise alarm about the novel coronavirus early on. Still, some have raised concerns about the possibility that intelligence could be politicized as the administration seeks to exact blame on Beijing.
The idea that the virus was somehow constructed in a lab has been widely dismissed by officials and academics as a conspiracy theory, though the idea that the naturally-occurring virus was being studied in a lab and escaped on accident has not been ruled out.
To date, the broad consensus has been that the virus emerged at a live animal market in Wuhan. Health experts have been skeptical of the idea that the virus has links to the Wuhan lab and say that a non-laboratory scenario is much more plausible.