Ernst: Wuhan-Affiliated Group Broke Federal Law Moments After Biden Admin Resumed Federal Funding

The Wuhan Institute / Getty Images
May 11, 2023

The group at the center of the COVID-19 lab leak theory allegedly violated federal law as it celebrated the Biden administration’s decision to resume funding its risky research into Chinese bat coronaviruses.

A $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable EcoHealth Alliance to resume the research that a growing number of intelligence agencies and virologists believe contributed to pandemic outbreak. EcoHealth Alliance gleefully announced the grant in a Monday press release but failed to disclose the financial terms of the project. That could violate federal transparency law, according to complaints filed Thursday by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and the White Coat Waste Project.

Ernst called on the National Institutes of Health to end taxpayer funding of EcoHealth’s "dangerous experiments before the public’s health is put at risk, possibly for a second time."

"Despite these scathing findings, EcoHealth continues to violate longstanding federal law mandating that all projects supported with taxpayer dollars publicly disclose the costs and to conduct dangerous experiments on coronaviruses collected from bats with the financial backing of the NIH," Ernst said in a Thursday letter to National Institutes of Health acting director Lawrence Tabak, noting the group’s "well-documented and persistent refusal to comply with federal laws."

EcoHealth Alliance is no stranger to controversy. In January, government investigators issued a scathing report finding that EcoHealth waited two years to report that it created boosted bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab that were far more infectious than their natural counterparts. Former president Donald Trump suspended its Chinese coronavirus research in April 2020 amid growing concerns about the gain-of-function experiments it conducted alongside the Wuhan Institute of Virology before the pandemic.

EcoHealth Alliance violated the Stevens Amendment in at least three statements since August 2022 in discussing its taxpayer-funded work, the White Coat Waste Project detailed in a complaint Thursday to Health and Human Services inspector general Christi Grimm.

"All of these [EcoHealth Alliance] releases failed to report any of the legally mandated spending details required by the Stevens Amendment," the White Coat Waste Project said in its complaint.

The Stevens Amendment requires groups discussing taxpayer-funded projects from the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services to disclose the percentage of total program costs funded by taxpayer dollars and the dollar amount of federal funds going toward the project.

EcoHealth Alliance’s renewed grant comes with a bevy of new restrictions. Most notably, the National Institutes of Health has forbidden the group from conducting any research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The group is also prohibited from collecting any new viral samples from Chinese bats.

Still, Republican lawmakers slammed the Biden administration on Monday for renewing EcoHealth Alliance’s grant.

"It's absolutely reckless that the NIH has renewed a grant for EcoHealth Alliance given their negligence and the breach of their contract with the NIH on the coronavirus research done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Rep. Morgan Griffith (R., Va.) a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Daily Mail.

At the onset of the pandemic, Democrats and the media dismissed the theory that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a baseless conspiracy. But proponents have been vindicated in the years since, as circumstantial evidence has accumulated suggesting the virus leaked from the Chinese lab.

The Energy Department admitted in February that COVID-19 likely emerged in China from a lab leak. The FBI also said that same month that the lab leak theory was "most likely." And in March, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law to declassify intelligence on the origins of the pandemic.

EcoHealth Alliance did not immediately return a request for comment.