Speed Reads

no smoking gun

The Trump administration tried hard to prove the COVID-19 Wuhan lab-leak theory, came up short

The Trump administration launched several separate investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and former President Donald Trump and other senior officials pressed hard for evidence the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Politico and The Washington Post reported Tuesday. But nobody was able to find more than inconclusive and circumstantial evidence. President Biden ordered a new 90-day review of the intelligence last month.

By Feb. 1, 2020, the U.S. government's top scientists and medical experts had determined China did not engineer the new coronavirus, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins tells the Post. "I am not at all convinced that a natural origin is the only explanation; I've never been convinced," he said, but unless new evidence emerges, the coronavirus wasn't designed by humans.

On April 30, 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence codified that view, saying in a statement the intelligence community "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified," and would continue working "to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan." 

That statement "angered some officials in the State Department who had wondered whether the virus was designed as part of a secretive Chinese bioweapons program," the Post reports. Trump immediately told reporters he was highly confident the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but he was "not allowed" to say why. Privately, Trump "told aides that he believed the intelligence agencies had concluded that the virus came from the lab," the Post reports. "The agencies had never reached that conclusion." 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed three days later there was "enormous evidence" COVID-19 came from a lab, stoking "confusion elsewhere in the administration among some officials investigating COVID-19's origins," Politico reports. "He wanted a smoking gun, and we couldn't give it to him," one former official told the Post. Pompeo told the Post last week he became convinced of the virus' lab origins by "the cumulative amount of evidence" and "the absence of evidence for other theories."

"We never got to a smoking gun," said Anthony Ruggiero, who led one of the Trump COVID-19 investigations at the National Security Council. "Had Trump officials found a smoking gun," current and former officials assured the Post, "they would have said so."