Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger made the claim in a recent virtual conference call with British lawmakers regarding China. During the call, Pottinger asserted that officials within China have rejected the theory that the virus originated from a wet market in Wuhan.
“There is a growing body of evidence to say that a laboratory leak or accident is very much a credible possibility,” Pottinger said during the call. “Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.”
Scientists have yet to trace the exact origins of the pandemic, though it is widely believed to have been spread through human contact with infected animals. President Trump and other top officials have floated the theory that the virus leaked from a lab. To date, no evidence has emerged to support that claim.
The Daily Mail was first to report on Pottinger’s remarks.
Efforts to identify the origins of the virus are a key element of the U.S. government’s plan to prevent future pandemics, a senior administration official told Fox News when asked for further comment on Pottinger’s remarks. The official noted the administration’s stance that China has failed to share reliable information about the pandemic since its onset and that Beijing engaged in an “extensive disinformation campaign” regarding its origins.
The virtual call with British officials was held days before investigators from the World Health Organization were expected to travel to China to further investigate the pandemic’s origins. The WHO investigation was expected to begin in Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to Reuters.
Last month, an Associated Press investigation found that Chinese authorities were “strictly controlling” research into the pandemic’s origins.
U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China of withholding critical information about the pandemic’s severity. President-elect Joe Biden has signaled the U.S. will rejoin the WHO after the Trump administration signaled plans to withdraw its support of the body due to concerns about China’s influence over its operations.
Pottinger reportedly said lawmakers “have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” or a probe conducted under false pretenses.
Officials within the Trump administration have pursued the possibility that the virus leaked from a government-run lab for months. Pottinger directed U.S. intelligence agencies to search for a potential link supporting the theory as early as last January, the New York Times reported.
More than 352,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, according to Johns Hopkins University data. U.S. authorities have reported more than 20.7 million cases.