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Press Release Published: Apr 18, 2023

Wenstrup: Intelligence Community Plays an Essential Role in COVID-19 Origins Investigation

WASHINGTON — Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) opened today’s hearing on “Investigating the Origins of COVID-19, Part 2: China and the Available Intelligence” by emphasizing the importance of listening to intelligence experts and following the facts. Chairman Wenstrup laid out the declassified intelligence available to Americans that continues to point to a lab leak as the likely source of the COVID-19 virus. He also described China’s systemic prevention of a transparent and thorough investigation into the pandemic’s origins and their continued use of intimidation tactics to hide the truth. On Friday, the Chinese Embassy in the United States sent an email to Chairman Wenstrup’s staff encouraging the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to cancel today’s hearing.

Below are Select Subcommittee Chairman Wenstrup’s remarks as prepared for delivery.

Today marks the Select Subcommittee’s second hearing in our series investigating the origins of COVID-19.

At our first hearing, we heard what we presumed for years, that in addition to this being a scientific question, it is also one of intelligence and national security.

Former Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, who himself is a virologist, while discussing discovering the origins testified:

“I don’t think that answer’s going to come from the scientific community. I think that answer’s going to come from the Intelligence Community.”

As Dr. Redfield stated and we agree, the intelligence community plays an important role in this investigation.

We are not here to analyze the intelligence ourselves. We are here to listen to the experts and follow the facts.

That is exactly what we are here to do today.

Ask those that were actually involved in the intelligence process in the earliest days of the pandemic about what they saw and how we, as Congress, should proceed.

We appreciate each of the witnesses here today. I do want to highlight that, according to the Congressional Research Service, this is the first time a current or former Director of National Intelligence has testified before the Oversight Committee.

I think it truly shows the importance of this issue for Director Ratcliffe to be here today and we thank him.

We will discuss and examine many aspects of the available unclassified intelligence and it is my sincere hope that this hearing moves the ball forward and we can ultimately agree, on both sides of the aisle, that the origins of COVID-19 cannot be solved by science alone.

Starting in early 2020 there were rumblings about the possibility COVID-19 came from a lab, likely in Wuhan.

Every month since then, more and more circumstantial evidence has come to light suggesting this is the case.

On January 15, 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a Fact Sheet regarding some intelligence gathered surrounding the origins of COVID-19.

The Fact Sheet stated three things:

First, there were numerous researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology that were sick in the fall of 2019.

While this doesn’t prove COVID-19 came from that lab, it is a data point suggesting so.

Just two weeks ago, an expert in emerging disease outbreaks testified before this Subcommittee that researchers in a lab becoming sick would be consistent with a research-related lab outbreak.

Second, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has a published record of gain of function research, including at low biosafety levels.

And again, we know that much of this work was done with U.S. based EcoHealth Alliance.

And we know that EcoHealth has failed to publish all its work and has in fact refused to share its work with the U.S. government.

In other words, U.S. taxpayer funded risky research that may have sparked a pandemic is being hidden by a U.S. entity in China.

Third, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has cooperated with the Chinese military since at least 2017, including on animal laboratory experiments. 

The Biden Administration did not and still has not disagreed with these facts.

A Senior Biden State Department official said, “No one is disputing the information, the fact that those data points exist, the fact that they are accurate.”

Funnily enough the Biden Administration takes issue with the fact the Trump Administration released these facts.

That same official said, “the Trump Administration put spin on the ball.”

I think the Fact Sheet is pretty clear and non-biased.

It even stated that the U.S. government does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was initially transmitted to humans.

That is true. The rest are simply statements of fact derived from available intelligence.

Next, on October 29, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its first declassified Assessment on COVID-19 Origins.

This stated unequivocally that both a laboratory and natural origin are plausible.

Since then, more reporting has emerged.

FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed publicly that the FBI assesses COVID-19 most likely originated from a lab incident in Wuhan.

And the Wall Street Journal reported the Department of Energy now also believes a lab leak is the most likely origin.

The fact that it is these two agencies is important – the FBI uses experts in biological threats and was reportedly supported by the National Bio-forensic Analysis Center and the Department of Energy used its own Z Division – experts in investigating biological threats.

These are both scientific and intelligence experts.

While the specific origin of COVID-19 may not be 100 percent clear – there is mounting evidence suggesting a research or lab related incident.

What is clear though, is that China does not want the globe to know the origins.

They dodge and duck every legitimate attempt to investigate this question.

According to the Fact Sheet, China has systematically prevented a transparent and thorough investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic’s origin.

According to the ODNI report, China has hindered global investigations, resisted sharing information, and reported to blaming other countries, including the United States.

This became even more clear when we received this e-mail from the Chinse Embassy last week.

Without objection, I would ask unanimous consent to enter this e-mail into the record.

In it, the Chinese Embassy expresses “grave concern” regarding this hearing and states they “firmly oppose it.”

Well, we have news for Beijing – these intimidation tactics will not work. You will not slow down our work and we will not cease.

After the hearing, I will be sending a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. requesting China cease intimidation tactics and cooperate with this investigation.

I extend the invitation to any Member of this Subcommittee to join me.

Thank you.