Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said officials need to take a “broader view” when assessing the origins of the coronavirus, and defended Dr. Anthony Fauci from criticism over his early handling of the pandemic.
“We have other information now that fits into this picture. The science is one piece of information, but there’s a lot of other information that points in the direction that this could have come out of a lab, that we need to have a broader view about the potential risk that this was a lab leak,” Gottlieb said Sunday on “Face the Nation,” referring to the possibility that the virus accidentally spread from a viral laboratory in Wuhan, China.
The reinvigorated focus on the origin of the virus comes amid a renewed U.S. investigation into its initial spread, as well as the publication of thousands of emails to and from Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during the early stage of the pandemic. Gottlieb said he “didn’t think there was anything remarkable in those emails.”
“I certainly don’t think there was anything that Tony sent that expressed any ill intent and nothing really that was new from the standpoint of what we already knew,” he continued. “I do think, though, that some of the discussion that went on in those emails evidences a larger issue, which is that early on, the email that’s being focused on as a so-called ‘smoking gun,’ if you will, is an email Tony received from some really good scientists suggesting that they felt this could have been an engineered pathogen early on.”
Gottlieb said that email came from virologists who analyzed the genetic sequence of the virus and reached a conclusion that is now outdated. “As time evolved and as more virologists looked more carefully at this, the judgment of the scientific community is, there’s actually nothing that remarkable about this virus,” he said.
Countering critics who say Fauci incorrectly dismissed the possibility of a lab leak, Gottlieb said he had heard from a “very senior Trump administration official” that Fauci briefed a group of doctors in Europe about the matter in the early days of the pandemic. “So those discussions were going on,” he said.
Gottlieb said the debate shows the assessment of the origins of the virus needs to be “in the hands of the national security apparatus, not just the scientific community.”
“I think the broader issue here for me is that we look at these things through the lens of science and we don’t necessarily look at it through the lens of national security and a scientific mindset looks at the virus and the virus’ behavior and its sequence and draws a conclusion,” said Gottlieb. “A national security assessment looks at that as one piece of evidence, but then looks at the behavior of the Chinese government, looks at the behavior of the lab, looks at other evidence around the lab, including the infections that we now know took place, and that changes the overall assessment.”
In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China sought hospital treatment in November 2019 after becoming ill. China reported the first case of the coronavirus in December 2019.
President Biden has directed the intelligence community to redouble its efforts to collect and analyze information about the virus’ origins and report back to him in 90 days.
“As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.