The Energy Department concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid-19 pandemic “likely” according to a classified assessment sent to significant legislators on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, stemmed from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China, two people with firsthand knowledge told NBC News.
Key lawmakers on the intelligence committees were briefed last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the classified report, the sources said.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news first on Sunday. One source did warn NBC News that because of interagency disputes on Covid’s origins, the intelligence community did not consider the DOE’s assessment to be particularly relevant.
A Department of Energy spokesperson told NBC News that the agency “continues to support the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as the President directed.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, on Sunday called for “extensive public hearings” if the U.S. intelligence agency establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese lab.
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Asked on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” about what the consequences should be if the U.S. makes that determination and then discovers it was covered up by the Chinese government, Sullivan said that lawmakers must first “have public hearings on this and really dig into it.”
Reps. James Comer, chair of the Oversight Committee, and Brad Wenstrup, chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Epidemic, wrote to the ODNI on February 13 asking for information. “information about the origins of COVID-19,” a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee told NBC News Sunday. The committee is “reviewing the classified information provided,” the spokesperson said.
The White House referred NBC News to ODNI for comment. Asked about the classified report on Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that “there is not a definitive answer” from the intelligence community on the origins of Covid.
“There is a variety of views in the intelligence community. Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them have said they just don’t have enough information to be sure,” Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“If we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people,” Jake Sullivan added. “But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”