The Biden administration has reportedly shut down a discrete State Department operation, launched by former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE and his Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWashPost fact-checker gives Pompeo four 'Pinocchios' for 'zombie' claim about Obama Iran deal Poll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability Majority of voters disapprove of execution of Afghanistan withdrawal: poll MORE, to prove the widely-disputed theory that COVID-19 originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.
CNN reported Tuesday that the current administration ultimately halted the effort over concerns regarding the quality of the inquiry’s work, according to three sources familiar with the decision.
Individuals who were involved with the probe, which began last fall, told CNN that the operation was initially a genuine attempt to investigate if China’s biological weapons program may have played a larger part in the pandemic’s emergence in Wuhan.
Soon after its launch, however, the investigation became the subject of disagreement inside the State Department, with some worried that the probe was an element in the Trump administration’s wider effort to blame China for the pandemic, and hand-pick facts to help bolster a theory.
The effort’s operations were shuttered after Biden administration officials were briefed on the probe’s key findings in February and March, a State Department spokesperson told CNN.
Officials ultimately determined that the inquiry was an ineffective use of resources, after raising questions regarding the legitimacy of the team’s discoveries, a source familiar with the decision told the network.
Individuals in the Trump administration who worked on the project, however, rebuffed criticisms of their work to CNN, contending that their intention was to analyze scientific research and information from the U.S. intelligence community that bolstered the Wuhan lab leak theory, and reveal more information on how the virus could have leaked from a lab.
The State Department, in a statement to The Hill, said CNN’s report is incorrect, though it did not name the network in its statement.
“There has been incorrect reporting that the Biden-Harris Administration shut down an investigation by the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control and Verification and Compliance (AVC) into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in the statement.
He said that the team’s findings were briefed to AVC and Policy Planning policy staffing in the Biden administration in February and March of this year.
“With the report delivered, the work was ended,” Price said.
Price added, however, that “All relevant parts of the Department continue to work with the interagency on this matter.”
“The world continues to have serious questions about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People's Republic of China,” Price continued.
“China’s position that their part in this investigation is complete is disappointing and at odds with the rest of the international community that is working collaboratively across the board to bring an end to this pandemic and improve global health security,” he added.
The revelations regarding the now-concluded down State Department effort comes as public health officials and experts are increasingly lending credibility to the need for an investigation to probe the origins of the coronavirus.
Scientists who previously dismissed or disregarded the theory that COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan are now saying that an inquiry to look into the hypothesis is warranted.
While scientists have not uncovered definitive evidence that the coronavirus leaked from a lab, they also haven’t discovered proof that the virus started in animals before naturally infecting humans.
This increased support for an investigation to probe the Wuhan lab theory comes after The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a U.S. intelligence report, that a number of researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill with flu-like symptoms and required hospitalization in November 2019, one month before the Chinese government says it detected its first case of COVID-19.