Wenstrup: Knowing the Origin of COVID-19 is Fundamental to Helping Predict and Prevent Future Pandemics
WASHINGTON—Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) opened today’s hearing on “Investigating the Origins of COVID-19” by emphasizing how knowing the origin of the virus is essential to helping predict and prevent future pandemics, protecting health and national security, and preparing the United States for the future. He outlined how the Select Subcommittee will follow the facts, conduct a fair investigation, and seek to deliver the truth to the American people. Select Subcommittee Chairman Wenstrup pointed to several facts that indicate a possible lab leak in Wuhan and concluded by noting that today’s hearing is the first of several to determine how the virus originated.
Below are Select Subcommittee Chairman Wenstrup’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Welcome to our first of many hearings concerning the Coronavirus Pandemic.
We are tasked to review all the effects of the pandemic, as well as decisions made during the pandemic, not just the origins of COVID-19.
However, we are here today, at our first hearing, to ask the fundamental question that this body failed to ask three years ago—where did COVID-19 come from?
Did it come from a natural spillover, transferred from a bat to an intermediate source to a human?
In other words, did it come from nature?
Or was it the result of a laboratory- or research-related accident?
In other words, did it come from a lab?
This question is fundamental to helping us predict and prevent future pandemics, protecting our health and national security, and preparing the United States for the future.
This question is not one that should be dismissed out of hand.
It cannot be taken lightly.
And it must be investigated thoroughly, responsibly and honestly.
An investigation based on facts, expert opinions and without intentional or unintentional bias.
That is what the Select Subcommittee is tasked to do…follow the facts, conduct a fair investigation, and seek to deliver the truth to the American people.
Ultimately, we will strive to produce a product that will serve future generations, enhancing our capabilities and operating procedures when we are faced with the threat of another pandemic.
That is what is deserved. That is what Americans should expect from their government. And this is one more way we can provide for our defense.
And the work has already begun. Thus far, the Select Subcommittee has sent letters of inquiry to:
- the Department of Health and Human Services;
- the White House and Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institute of Health (NIH);
- the Office of the Director of National Intelligence;
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (N.I.A.I.D) and chief medical advisor to the President
- EcoHealth Alliance; recipient of NIH funding grants to perform Coronavirus research
- the Department of Energy;
- the Department of State; and
- the FBI; concerning their intelligence and investigations surrounding the evolution of COVID-19 and any forensic findings they may have discovered.
And over the weekend we released a memo highlighting new evidence that suggests Dr. Fauci “prompted” the drafting of a publication that would “disprove” the lab leak theory, that the authors skewed evidence to achieve that goal, and that the current Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization was an uncredited co-author even though he appears to have contributed to the piece entitled, “Proximal Origins.”
I think we have already established that the Select Subcommittee will try to leave no stone unturned to try to find the truth.
Unfortunately, the question of the origins has been politicized.
It has driven most people to their corners rather than driving apolitical scientific debate or discussion.
Some say the virus came from nature—that, according to recent papers discussed in the New York Times, the science is “dispositive.”
Some say it’s too unique, too primed for human transmission, that there is too much circumstantial evidence that points to COVID-19 coming from a lab.
As well, in three years, there has been no track found to prove that COVID-19 evolved naturally from animal, or mammal, or tick, to become highly infectious in humans.
The truth is—we don’t know the origins of COVID-19 yet for sure.
We don’t have a smoking gun.
Here’s what we do know, though—
First, the science behind COVID-19:
- The genome of COVID-19 is inconsistent with expectations and is unique for its group of viruses. COVID-19 has both a binding domain optimized for human cells and a furin cleavage site – or a small part of the virus that makes it so infectious – that has never been seen before in SARS related viruses.
- In other words, COVID-19 has unique characteristics that made it very infectious to humans. These have never been seen before in any other viruses of its type.
- Most viral outbreaks are slow and small. CDC data shows SARS infected approximately eight thousand people worldwide and eight in the U.S. Similar with MERS, which infected approximately two thousand people worldwide. But COVID-19 was primed for human transmission. It has infected more than 750 million people worldwide. Dr. Redfield, one of our witnesses here today and a virologist, has even said he believes COVID-19 “had a detour from nature to be educated how to infect humans.”
Second, the known research occurring in China:
- We know the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting gain-of-function research on novel bat coronaviruses by creating chimeric viruses – combining two viruses together to test infectivity – and infecting mice with these viruses. Work that former COVID-19 Task Force Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx confirmed was, in fact, gain-of-function; contrary to the statements of Dr. Fauci.
- We have learned that the Wuhan Institute has poor biosafety and was conducting this research at only Biosafety Level 2 – descried as the “Wild West,” by Dr. Jeremy Farrar, a virologist from the U.K., now chief scientist for the WHO.
- We have learned, through a leaked DARPA grant application, that with U.S. taxpayer backing, that the Wuhan Institute proposed inserting furin cleavage sites into novel coronaviruses – the same unique genetic aspect of COVID-19.
- And we know, according to a State Department Fact Sheet, that multiple researchers at the Wuhan Institute were sick with COVID-19 like symptoms in fall of 2019 – before the Chinese officially announced the outbreak.
Third, concerning the actions of NIH and EcoHealth Alliance:
- Records show that The National Institutes of Health – while the U.S. was under a moratorium on gain-of-function research – exempted EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute from this ban.
- Records show that The National Institutes of Health allowed EcoHealth to conduct risky research on novel coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute without going through the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Department level review board.
- Records show that EcoHealth violated federal grant policy and failed to file its year five progress report for more than two years.
- Records show that EcoHealth violated the terms of its grant and failed to report an experiment that resulted in gain-of-function of a coronavirus at the Wuhan Institute.
Fourth, for some reason that we do not yet know, leaders in the scientific community took action to attempt to convince the world that they should not take the lab leak theory seriously:
- Dr. Francis Collins stated he was more concerned with harm to “international harmony” than he was with investigating the lab leak. And Dr. Fauci said the lab leak was a “shiny object that will go away in time.”
- The President of EcoHealth, Dr. Peter Daszak, orchestrated a letter in The Lancet that called the lab leak a “conspiracy theory.” A statement that directly benefited Dr. Daszak himself.
- And four scientists, after a conference call with Dr. Fauci, completely reversed their position. Dr. Kristian Andersen said he found “the genome inconsistent with evolutionary theory.” And Dr. Robert Garry said he “really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario.” But a few days later published a paper saying the exact opposite.
- A paper, based on the new emails we released, claimed to be “prompted” by Dr. Fauci, himself.
And fifth, the intelligence:
- 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.
- These aren’t “run of the mill” agencies – the FBI used experts in biological threats and was reportedly supported by the National Bioforensic Analysis Center and the Department of Energy used its own Z Division – experts in investigating biological threats.
These are some of the facts as we know them. But there is so much more to do.
We are here today to try to understand what and why.
It is important to conduct this investigation.
Discovering the origins is vital.
It matters for the future of the world.
And we aren’t finished. We are just beginning.
There will be more hearings. And more inquiries. And more documents discovered.
We will follow every lead.
I look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses today and I thank them for joining us today.