Pompeo defends Wuhan lab claims in combative press conference

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS says it will leave Baghdad embassy if Iraq doesn't rein in attacks: report Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Trump's push for win with Sudan amps up pressure on Congress  MORE sparred with reporters Wednesday, insisting questions remain over whether the novel coronavirus pandemic came from a Chinese lab, despite pushback from senior intelligence officials and health experts.

“Barbara, Barbara, let me just, let me just put this to bed. Your efforts to try and find — just to spend your whole life trying to drive a little wedge between senior American officials … it's just false,” Pompeo said in response to a question by BBC reporter Barbara Plett Usher about the intelligence over the origins of the virus.

Pompeo has pushed the theory that the first cases of the novel coronavirus could have come from a scientist exposed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, part of efforts to demand Beijing allow international experts to investigate the outbreak as well as take responsibility for the global pandemic.

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Pompeo said in an interview Sunday there is “enormous evidence” the virus came from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan. But that statement has received pushback from senior officials and health experts.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Tuesday the evidence points to the virus occurring naturally and there is no “conclusive evidence” it was accidentally or intentionally leaked from a lab.

Global scientific consensus is that the virus originated in an animal and jumped to a human. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll Overnight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has pushed back on the argument the virus escaped a lab and said the disease likely originated in the wild.

Asked if the State Department had new intelligence supporting the “enormous evidence,” Pompeo responded by saying it is both true that the U.S. does not know if the virus came from the lab and that there is evidence.

“Those statements are both entirely consistent,” he said.

“I'm not sure what it is about the grammar that you can't get,” Pompeo said. “We don't have certainty and there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true. I’ve made them both. Administration officials have made them. They’re all true.”

Last week, U.S. intelligence officials issued a rare public statement saying they agree with the global scientific consensus that the virus originated in an animal but will continue to investigate if it was the result of an accident in a lab.

China first reported “mysterious” cases of pneumonia to the World Health Organization at the end of December, and the cluster of cases was associated with vendors and sellers at a seafood market in Wuhan.