Former Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger told CBS News’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday that the amount of evidence that exists for the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology “far outweighs” the evidence that the pandemic’s origin occurred in nature.
Pottinger said one of the major things that hobbled America’s response to the pandemic was China refusing to share data and the World Health Organization “parroting misinformation about the virus.” Pottinger said that the Chinese CDC was cut out of the equation when it came to responding to the pandemic as China turned to its military to “try to cover this thing up, to try to contain it until it was too late.”
“The World Health Organization made all sorts [of] untruthful or misinformed claims about this virus,
Pottinger said. “That it doesn’t spread human to human, that it’s not asymptomatic. They praised the Chinese government for shutting down domestic travel in China while simultaneously criticizing the United States for shutting down international travel, which is a morally and logically indefensible position. So the WHO has a lot to answer for.”
“When it comes to this investigation into the origins, unfortunately, we’re seeing a panel that’s been sent to China that is deeply conflicted,” Pottinger continued. “It’s made up of people who have benefited from public funding to work in the very lab where this thing may have actually originated from — the Wuhan Institute of Virology. You have people who were hand selected by the Chinese government. They had a veto over who could come in. And some of those people were conflicted. And so you have a situation where it’s like you’re turning to the rabbits to investigate what happened to the lettuce that they were guarding. And so it’s not a credible exercise that we’ve seen undertaken to get to the roots of where this thing originated.”
Pottinger noted that China has had numerous problems in the past with viruses escaping their labs, and that “if you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak.”
Pottinger noted that U.S. officials are wanting to find out more information about what the Chinese military was allegedly doing in the lab, saying that they have “very strong reason to believe” that they were conducting “secret classified animal experiments in that same laboratory going all the way back to at least 2017.”
“We have good reason to believe that there was an outbreak of flu-like illness among researchers working in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the fall of 2019, but immediately before the first documented cases came to light,” he continued. “We also know that they were working on viruses, doing gain of function research study, technical sorts of experiments with viruses, including a virus that was discovered in the southwestern province of Yunnan that is most similar to the virus that we all now know as COVID. So there are a lot of leads that we put out there that I don’t see any evidence that this panel of researchers affiliated with the WHO were able to get any information on any of these questions.”
Pottinger said that he was “not aware” of any evidence that existed that suggested that Chinese officials intentionally started the pandemic, but noted that “the types of research that were underway, both by the civilian staff of the Wuhan Institute of Technology and also military researchers that they were closely affiliated with were studies into exactly the kinds of viruses that, you know, ones that are 96% similar to the virus that’s now making us all sick.”
“They were doing gain-of-function research using humanized mice, for example,” he said. “That’s to say mice that have been genetically modified to express human-like features, human lung tissue, for example, and then pushing viruses through humanized mice, which can sometimes lead, sometimes intentionally what you’re trying to do is study the dynamics of a virus to see what’s dangerous about a virus. What, you know, what do we need to know to protect ourselves from a virus? And in doing that kind of research there — it’s highly possible that that led to some kind of an accident that seeded the COVID pandemic that’s now killed more than two million of our fellow human beings.”
PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CBS NEWS:
MARGARET BRENNAN: So why wasn’t that happening in January? You were talking about temperature checks there and not screening for asymptomatic people. Whose call was that?
FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MATT POTTINGER: Yeah, well you have to remember that the Chinese government was not sharing useful data with anyone in the world. The World Health Organization was parroting misinformation about this virus. They were claiming that it is not featuring significant human-to-human spread. They continued for weeks, even months, to claim that there was not a significant amount of asymptomatic spread. So that misled our public health experts and where we should have been careful, more careful was to listen to individual doctors on the ground in China who were actually giving us the clues. They were sharing better information with us than the Chinese government was. And that’s — I was able to call doctors on the ground in China in late January. And they were already telling me, look, this thing spreads asymptomatically. Half of the cases or more are asymptomatic. That was a different story from what the Chinese government was telling. But we should have had more feelers out and shouldn’t have been relying on the Chinese government to spoon feed us what we would need to know.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And to be clear, you were calling people you knew because you had been a journalist in China for years. You then went on to become an intelligence officer in the Marine Corps. So you were calling people outside of the government, but you are inside the Trump administration. So —
MARGARET BRENNAN: — why is it that you were seeing and hearing things from doctors that the official health organizations were not getting?
POTTINGER: Yeah, it’s an indictment of the WHO certainly, but it also troubles me that the CDC was not talking to a broader range of people on the ground. We had about a dozen CDC officers in China. We have lots of CDC officers in the United States who deal with Chinese doctors. But you’re right. I had covered the SARS epidemic back in 2003 when I was living in China, writing for The Wall Street Journal. So I dusted off some of my old contacts and talked to Chinese doctors who had firsthand information about this pandemic. And they were very open. They said, yeah, this thing is not going to be like SARS 2003. It’s going to be like the 1918 flu pandemic because it’s spreading silently.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And Dr. Fauci recounted to Bob Woodward in that book, “Rage,” that he was hearing you say these things in January and thought you were overreacting and then, months later, then said Matt was right. Was the administration being intentionally misled here or was it a problem in terms of how our own public health officials consumed information?
POTTINGER: Yeah, I don’t think anyone in the United States was intentionally misleading anybody else; I think that we were accustomed to dealing with governments that act in good faith. And when you’re talking about the Chinese Communist Party … an authoritarian regime that cares about nothing other than its own survival, we were a little bit too credulous. We were waiting to be fed information when the nature of that regime meant that we were not going to get that information; they had a strong incentive to mislead their own public and the rest of the world about the nature of this virus. And that’s why we’re paying the price that we paid. You know, so that misjudgment about the nature of the virus, because we were waiting for information — by the way, we should have our intelligence community prioritizing the collection of information about bio threats, including natural or unnatural bio threats when it comes to these kinds of totalitarian dictatorships that are not going to come clean. We would have had better information from the government of- of certainly Rwanda, Kenya, any number of- of developing nations would have had better information, faster for- for us and for the world than Beijing was willing to share because they had a profound incentive to cover this thing up.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the World Health Organization has said that COVID-19 was circulating in Wuhan, China in late 2019, but it took until January 2nd of 2020 before the CDC made that first call to the National Security Council where you worked. Why didn’t U.S. health officials or U.S. intelligence know earlier about this threat?
POTTINGER: Well, U.S. intelligence wasn’t focused on these kinds of questions. They were relying on the CDC. The CDC- our CDC in China had a working relationship with the Chinese CDC. We funded it. We had helped them with their HIV pandemic. We- we’d trained many of their officials, including the head of the Chinese CDC. The problem was the Chinese Communist Party did not turn to their CDC to deal with this crisis. They turned to their military. And our CDC did not have relations established with the Chinese military. So the director of the Chinese CDC, based on public reporting, didn’t know either. I mean, the Chinese CDC director did not know that this thing was circulating until the last day of December, which is incredible when you think about that. So it looks like the Chinese CDC to some extent was cut out because the Chinese Communist Party turned to its military to try to cover this thing up, to try to contain it until it was too late. And the consequences are- we’re all feeling now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, I mean, that’s an incredible allegation to say it was an intentional cover up. Some have- have looked at this and said this is what a- a clunky, bureaucratic communist regime functions like. You have low level officials who are incentivized not to tell the truth to their superiors or risk getting in trouble. Why do you think that this was intentional?
POTTINGER: Well, we know that China’s national propaganda outlet, China Central Television, ran stories about the- the arrest of- for example, Dr. Li Wenliang, who was one of the early whistleblowers about this case. They- they accused him in a national television broadcast of rumor mongering. And you had so many different components of government, national, local, local hospital officials, others who were all being told shut your mouths. Don’t send notes on your WeChat account about it. Don’t send social media. Don’t tell anyone. You’ve got to keep this thing secret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Chinese CDC was the prime source of information for our CDC. Were- were their health officials intentionally being blocked from sharing information with US health officials, is that what you’re saying, that this was a military interference and project?
POTTINGER: Well, I- I think- think that there were undoubtedly officials in China who wanted to share more information than they could. I spoke to some- some- some doctors, as I mentioned. I’m sure that there were conscientious, well-meaning officials in the Chinese system who would have wanted to share a lot more data than they were allowed to. Well, I’ll give you one example. The only reason that we got a sequence of the genetics of this virus in January was because a Chinese laboratory decided to share that information. They did it proactively. That lab got shut down for, quote unquote, rectification within 24 hours of sharing that. So I- I think that no doubt, there were people who wanted to share much more aggressively but were being muzzled by the Chinese Communist Party.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, to be honest with you, credibility was a big problem for the Trump administration, as you know. And so, when President Trump made comments about China and some of the things that we’re talking about now, a lot of people viewed it and said this is a deflection and a deflection away from his own failures to protect the American public.
POTTINGER: Well that’s why we have to have a press.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to that?
POTTINGER: Well, I’d say the- the press has to- has to listen to what the United States says and then- and then weigh it against other information. You know, challenge the Chinese government as well. If there’s any government you want to be skeptical of, it’s the Chinese Communist Party. It’s no coincidence that the Chinese government began kicking out of the country, multiple foreign journalists, right around the time that all of this was happening. They- they claimed that it was because they saw what they thought was a racist headline. And so they started- they started emptying out the foreign news bureaus of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and others. What they were really doing was going after foreign reporters who could speak Chinese language, who were working on this Wuhan case or working on the genocide that’s taking place in Xinjiang, in other words, sensitive stories that were a threat to the- the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party. That’s why they were- they were pushing out all of- all of the foreign correspondents so that they couldn’t actually have an easy time pursuing these kinds of leads.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the- the Biden administration and their national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said he has deep concerns about the World Health Organization’s recent report and Chinese interference in it. He’s also calling for China to make data available from the earliest stages of the outbreak. This sounds exactly what- like what you were asking for.
POTTINGER: Yeah, no, I’m- I’m- I’m really glad that- that Jake Sullivan was asked- made that statement. Look, the World Health Organization made all sorts of- of un-untruthful or misinformed claims about this virus. That it doesn’t spread human to human, that it’s not asymptomatic. They- they- they praised the Chinese government for shutting down domestic travel in China while- while simultaneously criticizing the United States for shutting down international travel, which is a morally and logically indefensible position. So the WHO has a lot to answer for. When it comes to this investigation into the origins, unfortunately, we’re seeing a panel that’s been sent to China that is deeply conflicted. It’s made up of people who have benefited from public funding to work in the very lab where this thing may have actually originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. You have people who were hand selected by the Chinese government. They had a veto over who could come in. And some of those people were conflicted. And so you have a situation where it’s like you’re turning to the rabbits to investigate what happened to the lettuce that they were guarding. And so it’s- it’s not a- it’s not a credible exercise that we’ve seen undertaken to get to the roots of where this thing originated.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But to be clear, I mean, U.S. intelligence has said COVID, according to wide scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified. You are not in any way alleging that it was, are you?
POTTINGER: No, what- what I’m stating is basically what you saw stated in a very carefully crafted fact sheet that the State Department put out in January. That statement says right at the very beginning, we don’t know where this thing originated. It may have come from a natural jump from animals into the human species. It may have come and, you know, resulted from an accident in a laboratory. And we’ve seen accidents take place in recent years, including in some of China’s most well-regarded laboratories. They had an accidental outbreak in 2004 of the SARS virus, which they were studying. That- that was a fatal outbreak. It infected nine people. And so if you weigh the circumstantial evidence, because we don’t have hard evidence, the Chinese government’s making it very difficult to- to pin down and pursue hard evidence. But if you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the- the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak. Now, one of the things that we put out in that statement were some questions, some leads that we were hoping WHO affiliated investigators would look at, that we hope journalists will look at, that we would hope that Beijing would come clean on, although we’re not holding our breath on that. Some of those things include the fact that we have very strong reason to believe that the Chinese military was doing secret classified animal experiments in that same laboratory, going all the way back to at least 2017. We have good reason to believe that there was an outbreak of flu-like illness among researchers working in the Wuhan Institute of virology in the fall of 2019, but immediately before the first documented cases came to light. We also know that they were working on viruses, doing gain of function research study, technical sorts of experiments with viruses, including a virus that was discovered in the southwestern province of Yunnan that is most similar to the virus that we all now know as COVID. So there are a lot of leads that we put out there that I- I don’t see any evidence that this panel of- of researchers affiliated with the WHO were able to get any information on any of these questions. They haven’t even addressed answers to any of these questions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what you’re referring to is some information that the State Department declassified right before the end of the Trump administration that detailed some of the things you just laid out there. And it said that–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –you have reason to believe a COVID-like disease was circulating in autumn of 2019 in China. Is there evidence to back up that assessment?
POTTINGER: There is. And that was a very carefully crafted statement, carefully crafted so as not to overstate the case that- that it was making. The case it was making was for following up on these important leads. So this was a document that was scrubbed by every department within every bureau within the State Department, was looked at very carefully by the National Security Council staff, intelligence officers, Health and Human Services. This was not a haphazard set of allegations that were laid out in that statement.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the Wuhan Institute of Virology is this lab that was near the market that so much early reporting was focused on, and in this lab, it’s been characterized really as, you know, a private research facility. But you are saying here that the Chinese military was running its own experiments inside that lab. You think- do you think that this was just an accident that really spiraled out of control?
POTTINGER: Yeah, I think that- I don’t- I’m not aware of any evidence, even circumstantial evidence, to suggest that this was a deliberate seeding of- of a pandemic by anybody. But the types of research that were underway, both by the civilian staff of the Wuhan Institute of Technology and also military researchers that they were closely affiliated with were studies into exactly the kinds of viruses that, you know, ones that are 96% similar to the virus that’s now making us all sick. They were doing gain-of-function research using humanized mice, for example. That’s to say mice that have been genetically modified to express human-like features, human lung tissue, for example, and then pushing viruses through humanized mice, which can sometimes lead- sometimes intentionally what you’re trying to do is study the dynamics of a virus to see what- what’s dangerous about a virus. What, you know, what do we need to know to protect ourselves from a virus? And in doing that kind of research there- it’s highly possible that that led to some kind of an accident that seeded the COVID pandemic that’s now killed more than two million of our- our fellow human beings.
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