The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement on Thursday saying the U.S. intelligence community "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified," but President Trump didn't seem aware of that assessment during a media briefing later in the day.
- When asked to comment by Fox News' John Roberts, Trump inquired about the identity of the director, "who is that that said that...who in particular, who is the man who made that statement."
- Trump then seemed to cast the statement aside, saying, "Oh, he would know that, huh, National Intelligence," to which Roberts responded, "That would be your Director of National Intelligence."
- "The [intelligence community] will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence 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,” said the statement from Richard Grenell, who assumed the role of acting director of National Intelligence in February.
- Trump wouldn't commit to agreeing with the statement. When pushed on why he felt confident the novel coronavirus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Trump vaguely said, "I can't tell you that, I'm not allowed to tell you that."
- When asked again if he saw evidence that the lab was the origin of the virus, Trump claimed, "Yes, I have," and pivoted to criticizing the World Health Organization.
- Earlier in the day, the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have pushed U.S. spy agencies to find evidence linking the coronavirus with the Wuhan lab.
Conservative media like Fox News, along with Republican politicians like Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have promoted a theory that the coronavirus originated from a Wuhan lab instead of wildlife. No evidence has been made public to support the claim and experts dismiss the theory, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease official, who said, "The mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now are totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” That hasn't stopped nearly 30% of Americans from believing the virus originated from a lab, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Trump previously said the theory made "sense."
The Wuhan lab theory has become one of several means for Trump to divert blame for the damage the pandemic has caused in the U.S. and reinforce his tough-on-China stance during the presidential election year. Trump has said China wants him to lose in November. When asked on Thursday about tweets he made praising the country's transparency in late January, Trump responded, "I'm making a trade deal with China, this was before the virus, of course I'm going to be complementary … but then later on that was superseded by a virus that should not have happened." He also shared praise for the country on March 27, 14 days after calling a national emergency.
The U.S. leads all other countries in confirmed COVID-19 cases with 1,067,061, around a third of all cases globally. It also leads in reported deaths with 62,860.