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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that would require the Biden administration to declassify all intelligence and documentation related to the origins of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 was introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). It passed via unanimous consent, as proposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Congress uses unanimous consent to quickly decide issues without taking a vote.
According to Fox News, the legislation also would require the Biden administration and the director of national intelligence to declassify all intelligence related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the epicenter of the “lab-leak theory” of the virus’s origin.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority has indicated they will pass the bill.
House Democrats oppose the bill, arguing the executive branch, and not the legislative branch, should make decisions concerning the declassification of intelligence documents.
This bill previously passed the Senate in May 2021, according to Politico. At the time, the House never acted on it.
In a tweet, Hawley wrote:
Tonight the Senate UNANIMOUSLY passed my bill to declassify all the intelligence the government has on #covid origins. Let the people see the truth!
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 2, 2023
“The American people — it’s past time — let’s show them what the government has. Let everybody see for themselves. Let everybody read it,” Hawley told Fox News on Thursday.
In a statement, Braun said:
“We need to know exactly what public health officials like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci knew about a lab leak when they were publicly downplaying it.
“The American people deserve transparency, free from censorship or spin. It’s time to declassify everything we know about COVID’s origins and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, now.”
In separate remarks on Twitter, Braun wrote:
The Senate just unanimously passed @HawleyMO’s & my bill to declassify every piece of information about the COVID lab leak.
The House needs to pass this bill to let the American people see the facts!
President Biden can’t ignore this: time to let Americans decide for ourselves.
— Senator Mike Braun (@SenatorBraun) March 2, 2023
According to Fox News, House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) opposed the bill, stating:
“We believe in letting committees of jurisdiction guide the discussions ahead, working with the administration and asking the administration tough questions.
“And when we can do that in a way that can be shared with the American public we will, but declassification conversations are best left to the executive.”
Passage of bill follows FBI director’s statements supporting lab leak theory
The bill passed after FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday told Fox News:
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan. Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab.”
According to a 2021 CNN report, the FBI, at the time, had “moderate confidence” in the Wuhan lab-leak theory.
On Sunday, a Wall Street Journal report — citing a classified intelligence report provided to the White House and some members of Congress — revealed the Department of Energy (DOE) now also believes that COVID-19 most likely emerged from the Wuhan lab.
The intelligence report was made public via an update to a declassified 2021 intelligence document,
Following these revelations, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Monday sent letters to DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding their agencies turn over documents pertaining to COVID-19’s origins, gain-of-function research, relations with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and more, by March 13.
According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, speaking during a press briefing on Monday, the U.S. government still has not reached a consensus regarding the origins of COVID-19, Politico reported.
“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 …There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how COVID started.
“The intelligence community and the rest of the government is still looking at this. 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.”
Kirby said that the investigation into COVID-19’s origins is a full government effort and that Biden is kept abreast of what the various intelligence agencies have found, according to Politico.
He added that when definitive information is available, Biden will brief Congress and the public.
Politico reported the DOE opted not to take a position on the Wall Street Journal report, instead stating through a spokesperson that it “continues to support the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as the President directed.”
Congressional Republicans are still debating how to move forward following the DOE revelations, according to a separate Politico report.
In addition to the bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday, proposals from Republican lawmakers have included scheduling classified White House intelligence briefings, setting up a 9/11-style nonpartisan investigative commission, and calling for sanctions against China and cessation of data-sharing with Chinese scientists.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said the DOE’s revelations reinforce “the vigilance we’re going to have to have vis-à-vis China on just about every front. It takes a little time to get momentum, but you’re going to see a lot of fresh China-countering policies from this Congress.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said:
“We should protest that China tried to cover this up, because that delayed our ability to respond. We also need to take a look at the kind of research that was being done at that lab, and whether it did receive American tax dollars to support it, which is an open question right now.”
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), said in reference to the DOE, “I don’t think we’ve been given a straight story. So obviously, when they came up with this observation, I wanted more information.”
Burgess has requested a classified briefing from the DOE but has not yet received a response, Politico reported.
Following a roundtable discussion on Tuesday regarding the U.S. government response to COVID-19, featuring the statements of four public health experts, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic scheduled a March 8 hearing on the origins of COVID-19.
Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, said the country should be “more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan with the origin of the [COVID-19] crisis.”
These statements, and the new DOE and FBI claims regarding the Wuhan lab-leak theory, elicited a strong response from the Chinese government.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning slammed the DOE revelations and the statements made by Wray, describing them as “political manipulation.”
Mao claimed China has been “open and transparent,” and said the issue of COVID-19’s origin “should not be politicized,” adding:
“Many have raised questions and concerns about U.S. bio-military bases at Fort Detrick and around the world. The U.S. should work with the WHO [World Health Organization] to invite experts from the world to the U.S. for origins-tracing study as soon as possible and share the research result with the international community in a timely, open and transparent manner.
“China is the only country that has invited, more than once, WHO expert groups to come into the country to conduct joint origins study. China has shared more data and research findings on SARS-CoV-2 origins study than any other country, making important contribution to global origins-tracing.”
He did it via a pass-through organization (EcoHealth)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2023
Chinese state-backed newspaper The Global Times recently warned Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter, after he amplified the Wuhan lab-leak theory in a recent tweet.
The editorial warned Musk: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Musk has significant business dealings in China.