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Trump and Pompeo Further Claims That the Coronavirus Originated in a Wuhan Lab, Health Experts Stress That It Is “Natural in Origin”

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  • Hours after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it was investigating whether the coronavirus pandemic began from natural causes or from a lab outbreak in China, President Trump on Thursday said he was confident that the virus had broken out of a lab.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated this claim Sunday, citing “enormous evidence.”
  • The “lab theory” contradicts the opinion of many health experts, who argue the virus is very likely “natural in origin.”
  • It also contradicts other world leaders and even other federal U.S. agencies, which have so far found no evidence to support such a theory.

Trump and Pompeo Say Coronavirus Came from Chinese Lab

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are pushing a theory that the coronavirus pandemic began in a lab in Wuhan, China; however, scientists are citing a lack of evidence to that theory and believe a natural origin is much more likely. 

On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement saying it was looking at two possibilities into how this pandemic started. The first is that the outbreak began “through contact with infected animals.” The second is that it “was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

Later in the day, Trump gave support to that second theory after a reporter asked him if he had a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the virus.

When asked why, Trump said he was not allowed to reveal that information.

Pompeo repeated Trump’s claim in a Sunday interview on “This Week” with ABC co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“Mr. Secretary, have you seen anything that gives you high confidence that it originated in that Wuhan lab?” Raddatz asked. 

“Martha, there’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” Pompeo responded. “We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outside, but I think the whole world can see now.”

“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” he added.

“These are not the first times that we’ve had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. So while the intelligence committee continues to do its work, they should continue to do that and verify so that we are certain. I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.” 

Directly afterward, Pompeo said he agreed with a recent report from the ODNI that said it doesn’t believe the coronavirus was man-made or genetically modified. 

Raddatz then asked him if he thought China had intentionally released the coronavirus or if it was a lab accident, but Pompeo said he couldn’t answer that question because the Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts.

Later on Sunday, during a Fox News town hall, Trump seemed to indicate that he thought the virus had broken out from a lab in Wuhan.

“I think they made a horrible mistake and they didn’t want to admit it,” he said.

“We wanted to go in. They didn’t want us there, even world health wanted to go in. They were admitted but much later, you know, not immediately. And my opinion is they made a mistake. They tried to cover it. They tried to put it out, just like a fire.”

Health Experts and Other World Leaders Disagree

If the president’s claim is true, such a revelation would be extremely notable, except many scientists disagree with this theory. 

While there have been a flurry of discussions as to whether the virus specifically originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, health officials say the world may never truly be able to learn that answer. They do, however, believe that it’s much more likely the virus made the leap from an animal to a human in a non-lab setting. 

World Health Organization Emergency Response Chief Mike Ryan directly pushed back at Trump’s claim on Friday, saying, “We have listened again and again to numerous scientists who have looked at the sequences and looked at this virus. We are assured that this virus is natural in origin. What is important is that we establish what that natural host for this virus is… how the animal-human species barrier was breached.”

In addition to health experts, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that there’s no evidence the coronavirus originated in a lab. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said France had seen no evidence of linking COVID-19 to a Wuhan lab. 

On top of all of that, even in the United States, current and former government officials reportedly told The New York Times that the C.I.A. has not been able “to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory.” The agency has also reportedly told lawmakers that it does not have enough information to either refute or confirm the theory. 

It added that the only way to truly find “definitive proof” would be by gaining access to the lab and studying its viral samples. 

Lab Theory Spurred by China’s Lack of Transparency

Part of the reason the lab theory has gained such traction may be a result of China’s lack of transparency after the pandemic first began. 

For example, Chinese officials have rejected calls for an investigation into the source of the virus. In March, one Chinese official actually pushed a conspiracy theory that the U.S. spread the virus. A month earlier, China shut down the lab that shared the coronavirus genome. 

Because of actions like that, Pompeo was also critical of China’s early actions, saying the Chinese Communist Party “did all that it could to make sure that the world didn’t learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place.”

“There’s lots of evidence of that,” Pompeo added. “Some of it you can see in public, right. We’ve seen announcements, we’ve seen the fact that they’ve kicked journalists out, we saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this, medical professionals, inside of China were silenced. They shut down reporting. All the kind of things authoritarian regimes do. It’s the way communist parties operate.”

Still, an editorial in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times has pushed back against this claim and the lab theory, reading:

“Since Pompeo said his claims are supported by ‘enormous evidence,’ then he should present this so-called evidence to the world, and especially to the American public who he continually tries to fool. The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence, and during Sunday’s interview, he was bluffing.”

Part of the reason why neither Trump nor Pompeo will explain the evidence they’ve cited could be because according to reports, some evidence appears to be based on electronic intercepts of communications among Chinese officials, and revealing those could reportedly reveal intel about how the U.S. tracks Chinese officials.

Other critics, including those in the U.S., have alleged that the Trump Administration’s efforts to ramp up criticism of China are a deflection for how the federal government has handled the pandemic. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (The New York Times)

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Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media

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The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.


The Social Media Child Protection Act

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.

The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.

The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.

Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.

“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,”  he said in a statement announcing the bill.

“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued. 

“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”

While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.

The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.

Backlash and Support

Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.

Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.

“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.

Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.

“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”

Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.

“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,”  he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.

A Growing Movement

Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.

In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding  “the right age for a child to start using social media.”

“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.” 

Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”

His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)

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Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office

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The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom


What Was in the Files?

President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.

The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.

The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.

Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.

On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.

They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.

What Happens Next?

Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.

Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.

Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.

If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.

The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.

On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.

Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.

The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats

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The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.


The Right To Build Families Act of 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.

The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.” 

The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.

The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”

Fertility Treatments Under Treat

The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.

For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.

Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.

Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.

All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions. 

“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.

“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.

In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”

Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.

“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.

Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.” 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (HuffPost) (USA Today)

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