Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told CBS News he believes Xi is eyeing future consolidation of authoritarian regimes’ power.
When asked about the national security implications of a closer China-Russia relationship, Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio replied: “President Xi says, ‘I want to enter a new era where authoritarian regimes win democracy and freedom. ‘ It’s important that we double down and we’re going to make sure that we make sure our military is strong, that we rise to the challenge and make sure they don’t get the change that they’re asking for.”
Turner, a member of the Gang of Eight in Congress, is briefed on the government’s most sensitive intelligence agencies. The Ohio congressman has also been heavily involved in efforts to declassify information about the origins of COVID-19, which the CDC says has contributed to the deaths of more than 1.1 million Americans.
Earlier this week President Joe Biden signed bipartisan laws Demanding that Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, release any information on links between the origins of the pandemic and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the same city where the pandemic was first reported.
“I think they’re going to see that there’s substantial evidence of a leak in the lab and that there’s only speculative evidence of a natural event,” Turner said. “And that’s going to be very different than what people have concluded from reading the declassified material that the government has released.”
Some virologists speak of spread of a different kind in humans is a more likely explanation for how the outbreak started. A recent analysis of samples collected at a market in Wuhan found this to be the case The virus was shed in close proximity to live animals prone to infection. However, these scientists also pushed for more studies on key questions surrounding the origins of COVID.
“We continue to urge China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. Understanding how the pandemic began remains both a moral and scientific imperative,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu’s reporter.
Turner predicted that the information released would “help people educate themselves about where the investigation really needs to go and that we have important information that would lead people to conclude, as Director Wray said of the FBI, that (it) is his conclusion that it would be a lab leak.”
In early March, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an interview with Fox News that “the FBI has believed for some time that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential laboratory incident.”
While intelligence agencies have been unable to reach a consensus on the origin of the pandemic, the Department of Energy also recently concluded with “low confidence” that it was plausible that an accidental leak in the lab was the source of the coronavirus.
On Friday in Ottawa, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told CBS News’ Christina Ruffini that the Energy Department’s report “still remains classified” and said that intelligence agencies are currently “going through the process of determining what cannot be classified.” She added that the sources and methods in the department’s report remain classified at this time.
In January 2021, a State Department fact sheet released by the outgoing Trump administration noted that “several researchers at the WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) fell ill with symptoms of both COVID-19 and also common seasonal diseases.”
Turner said he will urge the intelligence community to “release the names of people involved who may have been in contact with a laboratory release situation” so his committee can investigate them.
He also intends to gather information about the scientific experts who have advised the US government on the origin of COVID-19.
“I think they should release the information about who they spoke to beforehand, which scientists, which experts they spoke to, that gave them the opportunity to say that they think it was a natural occurrence,” he said.
Those types of names, information, dates, dates that have not been made public will, I believe, allow for a more thorough examination of this whole incident and what the administration needs to do next.
Grace Kazarian contributed to this report.