Peter Daszak Testifies Days After Whistleblower Documents Expose More About Dangerous Wuhan Research

Dr. Peter Daszak testified at a hearing held by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, just days after whistleblower documents revealed more details about dangerous research conducted in Wuhan.

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In his testimony earlier today, British epidemiologist Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance was questioned by congressional investigators regarding a series of contradictory statements he had made regarding research on gain-of-function conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus epidemic released a staff-level report hours before Daszak was scheduled to testify. In it, the committee recommended that Daszak be officially disbarred and that his conduct leading up to and during the COVID-19 epidemic be looked into criminally. Important conclusions consist of:

  • EcoHealth used U.S. taxpayer dollars to facilitate gain-of-function research on coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
  • EcoHealth violated the terms and conditions of its NIH grant by failing to report a potentially dangerous gain-of-function experiment conducted at the WIV.
  • EcoHealth also violated NIH grant requirements when it failed to submit a required research update report until nearly TWO YEARS after the NIH deadline.
  • The Trump Administration identified serious concerns with EcoHealth Alliance’s funding of the WIV and instructed NIH to fix the problem. Then, NIH terminated EcoHealth’s grant.
  • NIH is currently violating the terms of the WIV’s formal debarment by funding EcoHealth’s research.

On Monday, the National Institutes of Health released statements regarding documents indicating they funded risky virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to create dangerous chimeric viruses. Meanwhile, journalist Paul Thacker unveiled a fresh batch of documents that cast further doubt on Daszak’s work.

According to a report by the Telegraph, lab leaks have increased by 50% since the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, with 156 instances of lab leaks or mishaps since January 2020.

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Many months before a ban on such research was removed in 2017, EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak informed NIH funders in a June 2016 letter that EcoHealth Alliance planned to perform dangerous virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). In a public statement citing research the NIH had supported at the WIV, the NIH informed Congress and the public that these studies on chimeric viruses could not have resulted in the COVID-19 virus when it revealed part of this information in 2021.

The records also reveal that the NIH is now content to coordinate messaging with Peter Daszak’s nonprofit, despite previously feigning to control the grants awarded by EcoHealth Alliance.

Daszak wrote to Erik Stemmy, an official at NIH, asking him to “pass this information on to the people at NIAID who need to coordinate communications” and include a draft press release for May 2023. “And I’m available this evening, all day Friday and any time over the weekend to discuss.”

The whistleblower charity Empower Oversight, which has sued the NIH to obtain access to public data, gave The DisInformation Chronicle the 611 pages of newly discovered documents. Several attempts for response were not answered by EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak or NIH spokeswoman Renate Myles.

The WIV conducted harmful virus trials that the NIH was not fully aware of, according to an October 2021 investigation by The Intercept, which sparked controversy over EcoHealth Alliance’s deadly research on MERS and SARS viruses. These studies were found by The Intercept in a 2019 report that was missing from an EcoHealth Alliance grant that was named “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.”

The 2019 report was first withheld by the NIH from The Intercept; however, following legal action, they were forced to release it. The 2019 report’s strange August 2021 date was another thing The Intercept uncovered.

That summary of the group’s work includes a description of an experiment the EcoHealth Alliance conducted involving infectious clones of MERS-CoV, the virus that caused a deadly outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012. MERS has a case-fatality rate as high as 35 percent, much higher than Covid-19’s. The scientists swapped out the virus’s receptor-binding domain, or RBD, a part of the spike protein that enables it to enter a host’s cells, according to the report. “We constructed the full-length infectious clone of MERS-CoV, and replaced the RBD of MERS-CoV with the RBDs of various strains of HKU4-related coronaviruses previously identified in bats from different provinces in southern China,” the scientists wrote.

Director of the Montana Biotechnology Center at the University of Montana and virologist Jack Nunberg told reporters, “Changing the receptor binding site on MERS is sort of crazy,” after going over the docs for The Intercept. “Engineering a known human pathogen raises new and unpredictable risks beyond those posed by their previously reported studies using a non-pathogenic bat virus backbone,” Nunberg continued, “even though these new chimeric viruses may retain properties of the MERS-CoV genetic backbone.”

But according to recently discovered records, EcoHealth Alliance sent a letter to Erik Stemmy at the NIH in June 2016 suggesting these experiments—three years before Chinese researchers at the WIV allegedly carried them out in 2019. Additionally, EcoHealth Alliance filed a report on these experiments to the NIH five years before this dated August of 2021.

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It’s important to know when these trials with chimeric viruses were carried out because it’s been reported that the White House ceased supporting these kinds of investigations in 2014. Since MERS is known to infect and spread among humans, it has been expressly classified as a gain-of-function research of concern under the NIH’s funding freeze.

The government’s statement regarding the funding pause, which concluded at some point in 2017, says “Public involvement in this deliberative process is key, and the process is thus designed to be transparent, accessible, and open to input from all sources,”

Still, Daszak detailed these same dangerous trials with MERS and SARS viruses that the White House claimed were no longer supported in a June 2016 letter—nearly a year before the pause was removed. Daszak wrote to Erik Stemmy at the NIH, “We have provided the details you requested, below, including alternative strategies if we remove work that could be deemed gain of function.”

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Daszak informed the NIH in the 2016 letter that the viral study was intended for year three of the project, despite The Intercept’s allegation that the WIV allegedly carried out the hazardous research in year five of the program. By this date, the studies ought to have taken place during the period when the White House stopped sponsoring this kind of research, a suspension that was lifted in 2017.

The NIH wrote Congress a letter in 2021 to clarify claimed differences in risky research that EcoHealth Alliance conducted at the WIV after The Intercept published a report on these virus tests, which were purported to have occurred in 2019.

“No NIAID funding was approved for research on Gain of Function at the WIV,” according to the NIH. Members of the House Oversight Committee who are Republicans tweeted a copy of the NIH letter. They were misled. EcoHealth and the WIV carried out a GOF study on bat coronaviruses, which the NIH confirmed today.

At that time, the NIH also released a statement in which they denied that the SARS virus that started the pandemic could have been produced by the WIV research they had financed.

The chimeric viruses that were studied (i.e., the WIV-1 virus with the various spike proteins obtained from bat viruses found in nature) were so far distant from an evolutionary standpoint from SARS-CoV-2 (Figure 1) that they could not have possibly been the source of SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recently made public documents also show how Congress and the media exerted pressure on NIH officials to carefully word their remarks about funding and research from EcoHealth Alliance. The day before The Intercept published its article, NIH representatives gave Anthony Fauci flip cards with a timeline of EcoHealth Alliance grants. NIH also supplied Fauci talking materials regarding pieces that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

The recently released records also demonstrate how NIH officials were pressured by Congress and the media to carefully craft their statements regarding grants and research from EcoHealth Alliance. NIH representatives distributed flip cards displaying a timeline of EcoHealth Alliance grants to Anthony Fauci the day before The Intercept’s story emerged. Talking points about essays published in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times were also sent by NIH to Fauci.

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The next day, The Intercept released the results of their study, and Renate Myles of the NIH distributed a statement in response to questions from Congress and the media, along with approved responses.

The subject line of an email from the NIH on October 21, 2021, said, “CLOSE HOLD: For Internal Use Only.” In response to inquiries from the media and Congress, Myles sent an email stating, “Final reactive statement and QA on the progress report are attached.”

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To keep everyone in the loop, a representative from the NIH Director’s office sent out news clips via email the next day. “We anticipate more articles later today and will update these clips with those articles once they pop. Let us know if you have questions.”

Emails reveal that the Hill briefings were sparked by The Intercept investigation as well. According to an email dated November, “Several Congressional committees were briefed by NIH Deputy Director Larry Tabak on the Year 5 Progress Reports from the NIAID grant to EcoHealth Alliance last week.” “We would appreciate you taking a stab at drafting responses to the numerous follow-up questions we received (attached).”

Much of the discussion in these emails has been heavily redacted, sometimes with whole pages blacked out, per NIH regulation.

NIH brought in representatives from many departments, including legislative affairs, communications, Anthony Fauci’s office, and the office of then-Director Francis Collins, to address an Inspector General audit of EcoHealth Alliance’s grants.

An email from November 2021 states, “Tracked changes show NIH OD edits to NIAID’s most recent input as well as OCGR-Leg’s recommended counter edits.”

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By April 2023, the NIH had begun direct coordination with EcoHealth Alliance in preparation for the disputed grant’s renewal, which had created so many issues. In an email to Peter Daszak, Erik Stemmy of the NIH encouraged him to amend the grant’s language as listed in the NIH’s grants database to “reflect the revised work for that award.”

“No problem at all, Erik,” Daszak replied. “Very happy to see that things will be moving forward. We have a lot of work to do on the grants management extra oversight, but all that is fixable.”

On May 3, Daszak reviewed the phrasing with NIH’s Erik Stemmy before submitting updates to the database. “Could you quickly read through and check – we can make further edits if you think there is anything here that could be worded better for the public understanding of our work, given that there will likely be interest in it.”

“Thanks for sharing the draft update, will get back to you ASAP!” Stemmy replied, later emailing Daszak, “Looks like it accurately reflects the renegotiation so please go ahead with the update.”

On May 4, 2023, Daszak sent Stemmy a draft of EcoHealth Alliance’s press statement announcing the grant renewal. “As per our Notice of Award requirements, and to make sure we can coordinate public discussion about the grant, I’m emailing to notify NIAID in advance that we’re aiming to make a public statement.”

On May 8, 2023, the EcoHealth Alliance said that they would not be performing any gain-of-function virus tests, something they had previously denied.

“It clarifies that the work does not involve recombinant virus technology, dual use research of concern, nor experiments intended to enhance the virulence or transmissibility of human pathogens (so-called ‘gain of function’ research).”

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