- 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)
Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection
Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Rolling Stone Report
Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.
According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”
The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”
“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”
The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).
The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail.
A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report.
Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named
This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.
As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.
Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.
Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.
Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.
Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”
Alleged White House Involvement
Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”
Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”
The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.
“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”
According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.