US President Donald Trump claims to have seen evidence that coronavirus originated at a Chinese research laboratory.
Asked on Thursday if he had seen information that gave him a “high degree of confidence” that the virus emanated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, Mr Trump told reporters: “Yes, I have.” When pressed on what had given him the confidence to make the claim, the US president said: “I’m not allowed to tell you that.” At the same event, however, Mr Trump said his administration was still investigating the origins of the virus, in comments that partly undermined his confidence in the evidence that he had been shown. “We’re looking at exactly where it came from, who it came from, how it happened,” said Mr Trump, adding that the results should come soon.
Ramping up his rhetoric against China and threatening new tariffs, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence by suggesting the country may have “let the virus spread”.
Prior to the White House event, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of US spy agencies, issued a statement asserting that the intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.
“The intelligence community will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement added.
The New York Times reports that Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials. The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.
Some intelligence analysts are concerned that the pressure from administration officials will distort assessments about the virus and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China over a disease that has infected more than three million people across the globe.
Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.
The Guardian reports that Mr. Trump’s aides and Republicans in Congress have sought to blame China for the pandemic in part to deflect criticism of the administration’s mismanagement of the crisis in the United States, which now has more coronavirus cases than any country. More than one million Americans have been infected, and more than 60,000 have died.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former C.I.A. director and the administration’s most vocal hard-liner on China, has taken the lead in pushing American intelligence agencies for more information, according to current and former officials.