House Committee on Oversight Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) and Republican lawmakers renewed their request to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Acting Director Lawrence Tabak to provide all documents and communications about a grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, which funneled taxpayer funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China to study bat coronaviruses. The Republican lawmakers also call for all documents and communications about a possible coordinated effort by top government health officials to conceal information about COVID-19 originating from the WIV and downplay the lab leak theory.
“A series of events documented in communications from February to April 2020 raise serious concerns about conflicts of interest and abuse of government resources,” wrote the Republican lawmakers. “Rather than be transparent with Committee Republicans, HHS and NIH have chosen to hide, obfuscate, and shield the truth. This stonewalling is particularly troubling considering NIH’s direct involvement in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the agency’s policy or practice to destroy potentially pertinent documents related to grant making decisions.”
Communications recently released by Oversight Committee Republicans reveal Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and at least eleven other scientists convened a conference call to discuss COVID-19 on February 1, 2020. On this conference call, top virologists first warned Drs. Fauci and Collins that COVID-19 may have leaked from the WIV and appeared genetically manipulated. On February 4, 2020, several conference call participants authored a paper that appeared in Nature Medicine dismissing the lab leak theory. The draft paper was sent to Drs. Fauci and Collins for possible editing and approval. On April 16, 2020, Dr. Collins emailed Dr. Fauci expressing dismay that the Nature Medicine paper did not squash the lab leak hypothesis and asked if the NIH can do more to “put down” the lab leak theory. The next day, Dr. Fauci cited the Nature Medicine paper from the White House podium.
“By continuing to refuse to cooperate with our request, HHS and NIH are choosing to hide information that will help inform the origins of the ongoing pandemic, prevent future pandemics, strengthen the United States’ national security posture, and restore confidence in our public health experts and infrastructure. The agencies’ continued obstruction is likely to cause irreparable harm to the credibility of these institutions. By providing the requested documents and information, HHS and NIH will have the opportunity to help our country move forward in a positive, transparent direction following the COVID-19 pandemic,” continued the lawmakers.
The Republican lawmakers are invoking a unique statutory authority that requires executive agencies to provide any information to the Oversight Committee when requested by any seven members of the Committee. The lawmakers first invoked this authority on July 15, 2021 for its COVID origins investigation.