Close menu
May 2, 2024 Agency Capture COVID News


Head of Nonprofit With Ties to Wuhan Lab Should Face Criminal Investigation, House Committee Says

A House committee investigating the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday called for a criminal investigation into Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance. The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic issued a 59-page report on EcoHealth, which receives about $16 million in taxpayer-funded grants annually.

Dr. Peter Daszak

A House committee investigating the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday called for a criminal investigation into Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, and further investigation into failures in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant-funding procedures.

In a statement released after the hearing — accompanied by a 59-page report — the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic called for permanently terminating funding for EcoHealth Alliance, which has ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Both Republican and Democrat representatives explicitly called for defunding EcoHealth Alliance, which Daszak said receives about $16 million in government grants annually.

However, journalist Paul D. Thacker cautioned against allowing Daszak to become “the fall guy” — because the NIH and Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), aided Daszak “in this multi-year cover-up,” he said.

Thacker, who has extensively covered Daszak and other COVID-19 origins-related news, told The Defender the Democrats seemed more concerned during the hearing about EcoHealth’s paperwork and conflicts of interest than the core allegations of dangerous gain-of-function research.

“The American people deserve accountability, and Daszak should be prosecuted for helping to misdirect USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] funds to create the Global Virome Project,” Thacker said.

He pointed to a 2022 U.S. Right to Know investigation showing Daszak co-founded the Global Virome Project with then-director of USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats Program Dennis Carroll, who “siphoned taxpayer funds” to launch the project.

The Global Virome Project aims to collect more than 1 million viruses from wildlife for research to forecast future pandemics.

Thacker also noted the change in the Democrats’ messaging throughout the hearing, which was more critical of Daszak. “No great evidence came to light,” he said. “But something is going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about yet.”

The House report confirms many of the same allegations laid out in “The Wuhan Cover-Up,” by Children’s Health Defense founder and chairman on leave Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The book was published in 2021.

Dems admit SARS-CoV-2 may have come from a lab

Daszak appeared before the committee to answer questions about his organization’s ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and allegations of conducting risky coronavirus research.

Committee members pressed him on claims that EcoHealth was conducting gain-of-function research, failed to report on experiments showing excessive viral growth and repeatedly missed deadlines for progress reports.

Led by Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Paul Ruiz (D-Calif.), the subcommittee also examined the circumstances surrounding EcoHealth’s NIH grant termination in 2020, and the ongoing dispute over access to virus samples collected at the Wuhan lab.

In his opening statement, Wenstrup said Daszak “comes across as disingenuous” when using “highly technical definitions in order to assert that a certain project really isn’t gain-of-function.”

Acknowledging EcoHealth’s failure to comply with grant-reporting requirements, Ruiz said Daszak’s actions “draw into question whether [he] sought to deliberately mislead regulators at NIH and NIAID.”

Daszak faced tough questioning from members on both sides of the aisle about his organization’s transparency and handling of taxpayer funds, biosafety standards at the Wuhan lab, efforts to downplay the role of Chinese scientists in his proposals, and communications with government officials through private emails.

Maintaining a composed and technical demeanor throughout, Daszak frequently cited government regulations, grant terms and scientific evidence to defend EcoHealth’s actions.

However, at times Daszak appeared evasive or uncertain when challenged on specific details. Many subcommittee members expressed skepticism about his forthrightness.

In a noteworthy departure from previous hearings, Democrats admitted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have come from a lab, although several underscored the lack of definitive evidence for the lab-leak theory.

“I’m hoping someday that we are going to get to the bottom of the truth of this,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said at the hearing. “I don’t know that we ever are because I’m hearing totally opposite information from reliable sources.”

Substack author Maryam Henein, noting the extensive documentation and testimony already gathered by the subcommittee and its failure to get to the bottom of COVID-19 origins, asked, “So, are all these hearings and reports for optics?”

Dispute over gain-of-function research definition

A central focus of the hearing was whether EcoHealth was conducting gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.

According to the subcommittee’s May 1 interim staff report, this research violated the terms of NIH grant R01AI110964 awarded to EcoHealth in 2014 for its five-year study, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.”

Majority Counsel Mitch Benzine pointed out that NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, Ph.D., and coronavirus expert Ralph Baric, Ph.D., testified that the experiments described in EcoHealth’s year 5 progress qualified as gain-of-function research.

This contradicts claims Daszak made in November 2023 during a transcribed interview before the subcommittee.

Daszak disputed the allegation, citing a letter from NIH stating that the work was not subject to gain-of-function regulations. “I tend to go with the regulatory authority on this, which is NIH,” he said.

The subcommittee’s interim report states that the definition of gain-of-function research on the NIH website was “unceremoniously removed … the same day the EcoHealth experiment was reported to Congress.”

The report alleges this change occurred before Fauci testified before the U.S. Senate claiming NIAID did not fund gain-of-function research and that Fauci therefore “misled the public” about funding such research at the Wuhan lab.

Public concerns about the research resulted in NIH reviewing EcoHealth’s grant, which it eventually suspended on April 24, 2020, the report states.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) questioned “NIAID’s approval and oversight of risky experiments involving potential pandemic pathogens,” calling the oversight “lax,” “a farce” and “grossly negligent.”

Congress will “have to put some adults in place to independently review proposed gain-of-function research” that federal agencies want to fund, Griffith said.

Daszak conceded that the Wuhan lab could have been conducting gain-of-function research on human coronaviruses without his knowledge.

He also emphasized that EcoHealth’s 15 years of work in China “provided direct public health benefits to the American people.”

“The viruses that we identified in bats in China were used by U.S. labs throughout the COVID pandemic and continue to be used to test drugs, vaccines and therapies that saved countless lives,” Daszak said.

Daszak: ‘Zero evidence’ virus emerged from a lab

The debate over the origins of COVID-19 was a central point of contention throughout the hearing.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) asked Daszak whether U.S. intelligence agencies “suspected something fishy was going on at the Wuhan lab” — including bioweapons manufacturing — before the pandemic.

“Well, that’s really for the intelligence community to answer,” Daszak said, claiming that only two agencies had “low to moderate confidence” of a lab-leak origin.

Daszak repeatedly stated that the available evidence strongly points to a natural zoonotic spillover. “There is zero evidence that it emerged from a lab.”

When Lesko cited a 2021 U.S. Department of State fact sheet alleging the Wuhan lab collaborated with the Chinese military on secret projects, Daszak denied knowing anything about a military connection to the lab.

Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas) questioned Daszak’s past statements dismissing the lab-leak origins as a “conspiracy theory,” noting this contradicted Daszak’s current testimony acknowledging the possibility.

Democratic Chief Counsel Giancarlo Pellegrini also interrogated Daszak on the issue, citing the following statement he and other scientists made in The Lancet in 2020: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

Daszak defended the comments, arguing the claims at the time were that the virus had HIV inserts and snake DNA and that it was bioengineered.

“Those are pure conspiracy theories,” he said. “There is no evidence at all for them. And they’re based on myth and legend.”

Under repeated questioning about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, Daszak doubled down on his claim, telling Comer, “The evidence that this came from a natural spillover is huge and growing every week.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) probed Daszak over EcoHealth’s DEFUSE proposal — developed with Shi Zhengli, Ph.D., of the Wuhan lab, and presented to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 2018 — and its planned “experiments to introduce furin cleavage sites into coronaviruses.”

She said the altered furin cleavage site is an attribute of SARS-CoV-2 and suggested some of Daszak’s actions were “intended to mislead DARPA about the extent of Wuhan’s involvement.”

Daszak countered that the proposal was never accepted or funded and that he was transparent about his relationship with the Wuhan lab in his prior discussions with DARPA.

EcoHealth failed to report on coronavirus-infected mice

The subcommittee report stated that EcoHealth failed to report an experiment at the Wuhan lab that showed the chimeric virus had enhanced growth compared to the control, violating NIH grant terms.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) questioned Daszak about EcoHealth’s year 5 progress report, which describes an experiment where mice infected with a chimeric coronavirus WIV1-SHC014 had a much lower survival rate (25%) compared to mice infected with just the WIV1 virus (71.4%).

Daszak argued the NIH rules did not apply to bat coronaviruses. “It was not considered of any risk to human health because they’ve never been shown to infect people,” he said.

Pellegrini pressed Daszak on the lack of the control virus data in EcoHealth’s year 4 grant report, which made it impossible to verify compliance with NIH’s rule for reporting a significantly increased level of virulence.

“We did the experiment, reported it back,” Daszak said. “Nobody came back to us and said, ‘This is highly concerning,’ because it wasn’t. The results were unremarkable.”

Daszak argued the experimental results showed “normal variations within a small group of mice.”

“I also want to remind the committee, these are SARS-CoV-related bat viruses,” Daszak said. “They’re not known to be infectious to people. They’re nothing to do with COVID-19.”

Daszak blamed late report on NIH website lockout

The subcommittee report found that EcoHealth submitted the NIH grant year 5 progress report nearly two years late, in August 2021, despite the report being due on September 28, 2019.

Daszak claimed his staff attempted to submit the report on time but the NIH system “locked us out.” However, an NIH investigation found no evidence to corroborate Daszak’s excuse, Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) said.

Ross grilled Daszak, challenging his claim that EcoHealth staff only made phone calls and noting EcoHealth’s typical pattern of communicating with NIH by email.

Daszak acknowledged there was no email on the issue, only phone calls from his staff that could not be verified, but promised to look again for any evidence of email communications concerning the lockout.

‘You didn’t tell me the truth’

EcoHealth’s failure to submit the report on time may have been due to ulterior motives, Griffith argued.

He pointed out discrepancies between the May 2020 draft of the year 5 report — the one EcoHealth claimed to have attempted to upload in 2019 — and the report submitted to NIH in August 2021.

In the 2020 version, EcoHealth claimed that bat coronavirus spillover in Southeast Asia and South China is a rare event, whereas the later report stated that “spillovers infected potentially a million people each year,” Griffith said.

“Rare or up to a million?” Griffith asked, telling Daszak that in his November 2023 closed-door testimony, he claimed there were no significant differences between the two versions of the report.

“You changed perhaps one of the most important findings — the likelihood of bat coronavirus spillover into humans,” Griffith said. “There’s no new data. There’s no new paper cited. Just a complete 180 reversal on the conclusion.”

Griffith told Daszak he assumed “Dr. Fauci or others at NIAID” pressured him to change the conclusion “to satisfy NIAD or others in the scientific community or to cover potential liability.”

Daszak responded that it was possible that EcoHealth conducted further scientific research after the initial draft, resulting in a revised conclusion.

Griffith pushed back, telling Daszak, “You didn’t tell me the truth” in the November interview.

Citing his experience in the criminal courts, Griffith said, “If you were my client, I would tell you that ‘That dog won’t hunt’ and the judge ain’t gonna believe that.”

Subcommittee posts key takeaways after hearing

In its statement released after the hearing, the subcommittee shared the following takeaways:

  • EcoHealth Alliance used U.S. taxpayer dollars to facilitate gain-of-function research on coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China.
  • EcoHealth Alliance violated its NIH grant terms and conditions by failing to report a potentially dangerous gain-of-function experiment conducted at the WIV.
  • EcoHealth Alliance also violated its NIH grant terms and conditions by failing to submit a required research update report — which included details about its gain-of-function work at the WIV — until nearly TWO YEARS after the NIH deadline.
  • The Trump Administration identified serious concerns with EcoHealth Alliance’s funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and instructed NIH to fix the problem. Then, NIH terminated EcoHealth’s grant. Without the intervention of the Trump Administration, EcoHealth may have been allowed to continue its dangerous research.
  • NIH is currently violating the terms of the WIV’s formal debarment by funding EcoHealth Alliance’s research.
Suggest A Correction

Share Options

Close menu

Republish Article

Please use the HTML above to republish this article. It is pre-formatted to follow our republication guidelines. Among other things, these require that the article not be edited; that the author’s byline is included; and that The Defender is clearly credited as the original source.

Please visit our full guidelines for more information. By republishing this article, you agree to these terms.