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5 Takeaways From Peter Daszak’s Testimony On U.S.-Funded Coronavirus Research

Peter Daszak testifying.
Image CreditGOP Oversight/YouTube

Here are the five biggest takeaways from Peter Daszak’s testimony about EcoHealth Alliance’s funding of gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China.

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EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Wednesday about his organization’s role in conducting gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in the years leading up to the 2020 Covid outbreak.

Daszak’s testimony came hours after the GOP members of the subcommittee released a damning report highlighting alleged wrongdoing by EcoHealth throughout its coronavirus research, several details of which conflict with Daszak’s statements from a closed-door interview with House members in November. The report recommended the NIH and Department of Health and Human Services “immediately commence suspension and debarment proceedings against both EcoHealth and Dr. Daszak” and the Justice Department to “evaluate if Dr. Daszak violated any federal laws.”

“These revelations undermine your credibility as well as every factual assertion you made during your transcribed interview,” the committee chairs wrote ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. “The Committees have a right and an obligation to protect the integrity of their investigations, including the accuracy of testimony during a transcribed interview.”

As Helen Raleigh previously reported at The Federalist, EcoHealth Alliance is a nongovernmental organization that from 2014-2020, sent “more than half a million dollars’ worth of U.S. government grants, including those from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with Anthony Fauci’s approval, to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to conduct gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.” While the Trump administration axed government funds for EcoHealth Alliance in 2020, the group has received federal grants since Joe Biden was sworn into office. A White Coat Waste Project investigation discovered EcoHealth received $4.1 million in government grants several days ago, and according to the group’s analysis, EcoHealth “has raked in nearly $60 million in new taxpayer funding since the pandemic.”

Following three hours of questioning from House lawmakers Wednesday, here are the biggest takeaways from Daszak’s testimony.

1. Daszak Dismissed Lab-Leak Theory While Working with Wuhan Lab

Much like Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Daszak aggressively denigrated the theory that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. In February 2020, the EcoHealth president orchestrated and signed a letter published in The Lancet that referred to the lab-leak hypothesis as a “conspiracy theor[y].” Co-signed by 26 other scientists, the statement read: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

During his testimony, Daszak told Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., that the “conspiracies” he and the letter’s authors were referring to were claims there are “HIV inserts into the virus” and that it “contains snake DNA.” When later pressed by Democrats’ counsel on why he and the other scientists didn’t mention such specifics in their letter, Daszak claimed it’s because there’s a “word limit on letters to Lancet.”

Ruiz questioned Daszak on his failure to disclose EcoHealth’s then-working relationship with the WIV when he signed the aforementioned letter. Despite this fact, Daszak and the authors “declare[d] no competing interests” at the end of their Lancet statement.

The Lancet later requested that you expand on your initial disclosures,” Ruiz said. “In turn, you elaborated on your coronavirus work in China. However, your updated disclosures do not explicitly acknowledge that you had partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That is a glaring omission, particularly when, as you stated … your updated disclosures are otherwise extremely detailed.”

The California Democrat further highlighted an email Daszak sent to colleagues before the letter’s publication in which he expressed concern that EcoHealth’s “collaboration” with the WIV may be unearthed if he signed the statement. Ruiz also referenced a series of other questionable actions Daszak took to seemingly hide EcoHealth’s work with the WIV, such as requesting The Lancet not designate him as the corresponding author and directing a fellow signatory to “take a press inquiry [he] had personally received.”

When given the chance to respond, Daszak claimed he took those actions because he thought it would be “inappropriate” for him to be listed first since some of the letter’s authors are “far more higher ranked in the system,” and all signatories “speak as one voice.”

The Lancet‘s top editor penned a column in December 2021 blasting Daszak for not disclosing his competing interests prior to the letter’s publication.

2. Daszak Had Contacts with U.S. Intel Agencies Before Covid

While being questioned by Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., Daszak claimed he was contacted by numerous intel agencies during the federal government’s investigation into the origins of Covid, including the FBI, CIA, and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Comer probed Daszak on whether he has a “standing relationship” with intel agencies outside of the aforementioned interactions, and Daszak said he did not. The Kentucky Republican further asked Daszak if he has ever been an “informant” for one of these agencies, prompting the Ecohealth president to claim: “You asked me if I have a standing relationship with any agencies in the intelligence community. The answer is no.”

After being asked two additional times to affirm that he has never been an informant, Daszak told Comer, “not to [his] knowledge” but that he’s “provided answers” to questions agencies have posed to him in his capacity as a U.S. citizen. Daszak explained he had conversations with the FBI before the Covid outbreak, claiming the agency wanted to learn about “emerging disease threats” and what information EcoHealth possessed about “where on the planet the next virus is likely to emerge.”

“That’s a question for the U.S. intelligence agency,” Daszak said when asked whether the FBI knew what was happening at the WIV before Covid emerged.

3. EcoHealth Delayed Submitting Its Research Progress Report to the U.S. Government

Another issue raised during Wednesday’s hearing was EcoHealth’s failure to submit a required report detailing its coronavirus research to the NIH by a specified deadline. As laid out in House Republicans’ report, federal grant recipients (such as EcoHealth) must submit progress reports to their funding agency. These documents provide the designated department with “updates on the progress of the work funded by the grant and any anticipated changes in the research approach or direction going into the next funding year.”

According to the GOP report, EcoHealth submitted its year five progress report to NIH on Aug. 3, 2021 — nearly two years after the original Sept. 30, 2019, deadline. Daszak previously testified (and maintained on Wednesday) that EcoHealth attempted to submit the required report but was unable to do so because it got “locked out” of the NIH system. A forensic audit conducted by the agency, however, “could not verify the claim.”

Daszak contended that his team reached out to NIH’s tech support division via phone but received no response and did not bother contacting the “relevant grant officer” at NIAID about the matter. As noted in the report, these claims seemingly run counter to actions Daszak took when submitting previous progress reports. In those cases, he would send an email to the grant officer after uploading such analyses to the NIH system.

There were also major discrepancies between the initial draft of the year five progress report and the version ultimately submitted to NIH, which Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., highlighted in detail.

4. Daszak Refused to Condemn Big Tech Censorship of Accurate Covid Info

The issue of Big Tech censorship of factual Covid information was also raised during Wednesday’s hearing. While questioning Daszak, Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, referenced the federal government’s efforts to pressure social media companies to censor posts about Covid containing accurate information.

Daszak claimed he did not have any contact with these companies throughout the pandemic. When the Texas congressman asked whether he thought the federal government’s collusion with Big Tech to “ban” certain scientific analyses “benefited science,” however, Daszak refused to provide a straightforward answer.

“I think there’s been a lot of misinformation, there still is, on social media,” Daszak said. “I think it’s good that social media companies are going to scientists to get information about whether the data they’re putting out is true or false.”

Cloud interjected, citing the suppression of renowned medical professionals, and asked Daszak if he’s concerned about such censorious efforts. The EcoHealth president (again) refused to condemn them and encouraged people to trust government health officials.

“The emotions during a pandemic are very high,” Daszak said. “I think the emotions lead to sort of hyperreactions to some of these things. I think that we should trust our scientists. I think the head of a government institute is set up to work on [these matters].”

5. Daszak Communicated with Fauci’s Adviser About EcoHealth Grant Renewal

Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Ga., asked Daszak whether he had any conversations about EcoHealth’s grant reinstatement with Dr. David Morens, the senior scientific adviser to the director of the NIAID who previously worked for Fauci. As previously mentioned, EcoHealth had its U.S. funding reinstated under Biden after losing access to such funds during the Trump administration.

While initially expressing uncertainty about corresponding with Morens, Daszak admitted that the NIAID official gave him advice on how to get EcoHealth’s grant reinstated.

“I asked everybody who had any knowledge about how NIH” grant reinstatement works, Daszak said, clarifying that Morens was among these individuals.

Daszak further testified that he was “aware” Morens was “sometimes” using his private email to communicate with him, claiming their conversations were “personal matters.” Records obtained by House Republicans indicate Morens used his private email account to communicate with colleagues to avoid open record requests.

“So, [does a] personal matter [include discussions] about reinstating a public grant?” McCormick asked, to which Daszak replied: “It’s not his job to reinstate it. This is me asking for his advice as a friend and colleague.”

McCormick also probed Daszak on whether he believed Morens’ role in advising him on how to get EcoHealth’s federal grant reinstated undermined NIAID’s eventual decision to restore the funds. Daszak appeared to excuse Morens’ actions, saying that “if that were true, then everybody else at NIH who advised [him] on how to get it reinstated … would have also undermined [such a decision].”

Other issues raised during Wednesday’s hearing and the aforementioned GOP subcommittee report are allegations that EcoHealth “violated its grant terms and conditions by failing to report a potentially dangerous experiment conducted by the WIV” and that Daszak “omitted the material fact that unanalyzed samples and sequences — that the U.S. paid for — are in the custody and control of the WIV.”


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