The White House has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to review intercepted communications and other data to see whether china and possibly the World Health Organization concealed information early on about the novel coronavirus, two administration officials told ABC News.
The investigation is a sign of President Donald Trump’s new hard line on China amid questions about his own response to the pandemic. After initially praising Xi Jinping and his government’s “transparency,” the president has now even suggested his administration would seek compensation from Beijing.
Secretary of State Pompeo once again played the role of of attack dog Wednesday, accusing China of spreading disinformation and covering up details of the outbreak and calling into question the safety of Chinese labs — that the first case of COVID-19 came from a biomedical lab in Wuhan, China.
Pompeo had labeled the pandemic the “Wuhan virus” where the outbreak began, according to a State Department official, as the arms of Chinese government propaganda cast doubt on whether it originated in Wuhan and even blamed the U.S. military for starting it. But after a March 27 call between Trump and Xi, that accusatory tone was softened, with Pompeo not even directly referring to China when calling for transparency or accusing governments of disinformation.
It’s unclear what’s behind the return to an aggressive tone in recent days. Critics of the Trump administration have accused the president of shifting blame to other targets, including the media, the Obama administration, Democratic lawmakers and the World Health Organization as the outbreak in the U.S. worsened.
At the White House Monday, Trump said his administration was looking at ways of holding China financially responsible for the pandemic and the economic damage it has caused after countries closed borders, trade halted and governments implemented stay-at-home restrictions.
“We haven’t determined the final amount yet. It’s very substantial. If you take a look at the world — I mean, this is worldwide damage. This is damage to the U.S., but this is damage to the world,” he said.
The Chinese government has rejected the idea that it owes any money, including lawsuits by individual Americans and the states of Missouri and Mississippi — and Trump didn’t specify how he would force it to pay.
Ordering intelligence agencies to investigate could be the first step toward building some kind of case against Beijing “As the president has said, the United States is thoroughly investigating this matter. Understanding the origins of the virus is important to help the world respond to this pandemic, but also to inform rapid-response efforts to future infectious disease outbreaks,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement Wednesday.
But critics point out the U.S. doesn’t need an intelligence review of WHO to find out what it knew when. U.S. officials were part of the WHO expert team that traveled to China after Beijing finally gave WHO permission at the end of January, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. There are also American officials who work at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the U.S. mission to the agency.
“We simply insist that they fulfill their missions, including demanding full transparency and information sharing and a willingness to speak the truth and hold member states accountable when they fail to comply,” the spokesperson said of WHO, even though — the agency is severely limited in what it can say beyond what data it gets from a member state.
news source: abcnews