House Republicans Launch Subcommittee to Investigate Covid Origins
House Republicans on Monday passed a rules package that included the formation of a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to investigate the origins of Covid-19 and other aspects of the pandemic.
The committee will have the power to investigate wide-ranging issues, including vaccine development, Covid-related school closures and the $5 trillion in emergency federal aid that has been approved since the start of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and I believe every American regardless of their political ideology would like to know the truth,” said Representative James Comer (R., Ky.), the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, according to the Washington Post.
The committee plans to investigate whether the virus originated in a lab leak in Wuhan, China, or from a Wuhan market. Several virology labs are located in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where bat coronaviruses were studied.
A team of experts from ten countries released a report on behalf of the WHO in March 2021 saying the virus was likely spread from an animal to humans, calling a theory that the virus was released in a lab accident “extremely unlikely.” The researchers said they would not recommend further investigation.
However, Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO food safety and animal diseases expert who led the organization’s investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, said in a Danish documentary months later that that Chinese colleagues influenced the presentation of the team’s findings.
In The Virus Mystery, Ben Embarek says Chinese researchers in the group fought against connecting the origins of the pandemic to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in a report detailing the investigation.
“In the beginning, they didn’t want anything about the lab [in the report], because it was impossible, so there was no need to waste time on that,” Ben Embarek said. “We insisted on including it, because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus originated.”
He said the report’s description of the possibility of a lab leak being “extremely unlikely,” did not mean the possibility was nonexistent. He added that one possibility was that a lab employee could have accidentally brought the virus to Wuhan after collecting samples in the field, which would be both a lab-leak theory and a hypothesis of direct infection from a bat, which was described as “likely” in the report.
A declassified intelligence report released in November 2021 revealed that the FBI concluded with “moderate confidence” that the pandemic began with a “laboratory accident” following a 90-day review ordered by President Biden earlier this year. The report did not name the single agency that supported the lab-leak theory, though the New York Times identified that agency as the FBI.
The new panel is set to hold its first hearing in February and will look to interview a number of current and former government officials, likely including Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“This isn’t about Joe Biden or Donald Trump. This is about Covid-19,” Comer told the Washington Post. He later added: “We’re concerned about some government employees, and these employees were hired long before the previous two presidents. So I don’t think it’s political at all.”
The text in the resolution sets out a mandate for the subcommittee to investigate federal funding for gain-of-function research, which involves making viruses more infectious and/or deadly.
Comer said the new panel will also “talk to the researchers,” including “all of the people that were involved” at the National Institutes of Health around the development of vaccines. The panel has a mandate to investigate the “development of vaccines and treatments” laid out in the resolution’s language. Comer said that will include a probe of the “effectiveness of the vaccines and the concerns that people are starting to raise with respect to side effects.”
Among other issues, the panel will also “finally look into the financial and societal impacts of shutdowns,” Representative Tom Cole (R., Okla.) said Monday on the House floor.