The U.S. government still has not reached a consensus on how the coronavirus pandemic started, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday — despite news reports that the Energy Department has concluded the virus most likely leaked from a lab in China.
“The intelligence community and the rest of the government is still looking at this,” Kirby said. “There’s not been a definitive conclusion, so it’s difficult for me to say — nor should I feel like I should have to defend press reporting about a possible preliminary indication here. What the president wants is facts.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the department had reached a “low confidence” conclusion supporting the so-called lab leak theory in a classified finding shared with the White House and members of Congress. Kirby would not confirm or deny the report, saying he is “not going to get ahead” of the U.S. government’s investigation.
The reported DOE finding gave new life to arguments from GOP lawmakers who have claimed, without evidence, that federal officials have covered up the origins of the virus that has killed more than a million Americans. Other agencies have said evidence points to the virus arising naturally in China before being transmitted to humans.
Two Republicans leading the House’s Covid probes demanded Monday that the Energy Department, State Department and FBI provide documents related to the issue.
“Uncovering the truth about the origins of COVID-19 is vital to U.S. national security, critical to the prevention of future pandemics, and will bring some semblance of closure to the families of those who lost loved ones during the pandemic,” wrote House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who chairs the panel’s coronavirus subcommittee.
The Energy Department declined Monday to comment on the Journal article, saying through a spokesperson: “The Department of Energy continues to support the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as the President directed.”
During an interview Sunday with CNN, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said a “variety of views” exist within the intelligence community about how Covid began.
The investigation is a full government effort and not led by one agency, Kirby said. He added that President Joe Biden has been regularly informed of what agencies have found regarding coronavirus origins.
“The president made trying to find the origins of Covid a priority right when he came into office and he has a whole government effort designed to do that,” Kirby said during a White House press briefing Monday. “There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how Covid started.”
“The president wants to understand that, so we can prevent better future pandemics,” Kirby added.
When the information is available, the administration will brief Congress and the American people, he said.
Staff writers Robin Bravender and Brian Dabbs of POLITICO’s E&E News contributed to this report.