'Obscures More Than It Illuminates': Lawmakers Slam Biden's COVID Origins Report

'This is not sufficient,' says Ohio congressman Mike Turner

A Wuhan, China, lab technician in Feb. 2020 / Getty Images
June 26, 2023

The Biden administration's newly released report on the origins of COVID-19 is so vague it violates the 2023 law that requires the administration to declassify information on the virus's genesis, Republican lawmakers are arguing.

President Joe Biden's director of national intelligence published the declassified portion of the report on Friday, days after the agency blew past Congress's June 18 deadline to release the information, as established under the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023. The report was supposed to lay out the administration's intelligence on China's now-infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology and the lab's potential links to the COVID pandemic's origin. But GOP lawmakers are expressing major dissatisfaction with the report, arguing the information provided was insufficient and "obscures more than it illuminates."

Ohio Republican congressman Mike Turner, for example, said during a Sunday CBS interview that the lackluster report violates the COVID-19 Origin Act and will likely lead to a "battle" between Congress and the Biden administration's director of national intelligence, Avril Haines. "This is not sufficient. … We want the intelligence released, not their opinion about the intelligence," Turner said. "We passed a law saying, 'Declassify it.' It's the law of the land. Release this so the American public can see it."

Friday's report comes after years of speculation over the Wuhan Institute of Virology's culpability in the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, evidence shows that risky gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses—including research funded by U.S. grant programs—took place at the Wuhan lab ahead of the pandemic's emergence in the United States. GOP critics have subsequently accused the federal government's medical experts of working to obfuscate the institute's potential role in starting the pandemic. Former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Anthony Fauci, for example, repeatedly dismissed concerns that the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, going as far as to commission a paper to "disprove" the theory.

In addition to Turner, Coronavirus Subcommittee chairman Brad Wenstrup (R., Ohio) on Saturday blasted the Biden administration report, with the subcommittee's Twitter account calling it "deficient and disappointing." Washington Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, meanwhile, said the "Friday night 'news' dump of a mere 10-page summary is a slap in the face of Americans who deserve full transparency about what information the government possesses regarding the origins of COVID-19."

"President Biden should follow through with what Congress has required: to declassify all information we need to help answer one of the most important public health questions of our lifetime," McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. "Perhaps the most important lesson we've learned throughout the pandemic is that our government must be honest and forthcoming if we are ever to restore public trust and obtain justice for the victims of the pandemic. … This report fails to live up to either."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not return a request for comment.

Republicans have specifically criticized the report's failure to name the scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who in late 2019 were among the first to fall ill with COVID-like symptoms. Just days before the report's release, news reports confirmed the names of those scientists, who all reportedly worked on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab. While Friday's report confirmed that scientists at the lab did indeed fall ill with COVID-like symptoms in late 2019, it did not identify who those scientists were.

"The law explicitly requires the director of national intelligence to release details on these researchers, including their names, symptoms, and involvement in coronavirus research at the [Wuhan Institute of Virology]," Wisconsin Republican congressman Mike Gallagher said in a Saturday statement. "This DNI release does none of that and, in many ways, obscures more than it illuminates."

Friday's 10-page report also highlights "biosafety concerns" at the Wuhan lab and confirms that "genetic engineering" of coronaviruses did take place there prior to COVID-19's emergence in the United States. The report notes that Wuhan lab researchers used genetic engineering techniques that make it hard to detect if the changes were intentional but nonetheless asserts that "almost all" intelligence agencies believe COVID-19 was not genetically modified.

In addition to deriding the report's lack of transparency, Kansas Republican senator Roger Marshall, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called for the report's authors to testify before Congress.

"As we've seen nearly every step of the way while trying to uncover the origins of COVID-19 virus, the Biden administration has failed to be transparent with the American people and members of Congress," Marshall told the New York Post. "Today's release of the declassified documents is late and does not provide the full picture of what our intelligence agencies know."