Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that U.S. officials have “enormous evidence” the coronavirus outbreak first started in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Pompeo appeared Sunday on the ABC program “This Week,” and was interviewed by Martha Raddatz.
Raddatz said intelligence officials are saying China “concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies. In terms of international concealing, I assume you think they did that intentionally to keep as many masks for themselves as possible.”
“Will there be some sort of retaliation?” she asked.
“So, Martha, you’ve got the facts just about right. We can confirm that the Chinese Communist Party did all that it could to make sure that the world didn’t learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place. There’s lots of evidence of that. Some of it you can see in public, right? We’ve seen announcements,” Pompeo said.
“We’ve seen the fact that they kicked journalists out. We saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this – medical professionals inside of China – were silenced. They shut down reporting. All the kind of things that authoritarian regimes do. It’s the way the Communist Party has operated. This is classic communist disinformation effort,” Pompeo said.
“That created enormous risk, and now you can see hundreds of thousands of people around the world, tens of thousands in the United States, have been harmed. President Trump is very clear: We’re going to hold those responsible accountable and we’ll do so on a timeline that is our own,” he said.
Raddatz asked Pompeo whether he agrees with reports the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, and not a wet market as was initially believed.
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“Martha, there is enormous evidence that that’s where this began. We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outside, but I think the whole world can see now. Remember, China has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” he said.
“These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. And so while the intelligence community continues to do its work, they should continue to do that and verify so that we are certain, I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo said.
However, Pompeo offered conflicting answers on the crucial question of whether the U.S. thinks the virus was man-made or occurred naturally. (Transcript here.)
When Raddatz first asked the question, Pompeo replied, “Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.”
When Raddatz suggested that there was information from America’s community to the contrary, Pompeo said that assessment was correct.
“That’s right. I agree with that. Yeah, I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point,” he said.
It’s unclear whether Pompeo might have simply misspoken the first time, misunderstood the question the second time or was deliberately ambiguous. When Raddatz tried to ask a clarifying question, Pompeo went on to place the blame for the magnitude of the global disaster squarely at China’s door.
“But you have to put this in context. Here’s what’s important, Martha. Here’s what’s important. The Chinese Communist Party had the opportunity to prevent all of the calamity that has befallen the world, and here we find ourselves today – you and I were talking about we haven’t seen each other physically for a long time. That’s true of people all across the world,” he said.
Pompeo said the critical piece of information to focus upon was that China allowed the crisis to grow out of control.
“This is an enormous crisis created by the fact that the Chinese Communist Party reverted to form, reverted to the kinds of disinformation, the kinds of concealment, that authoritarian regimes do. Had those scientists been operating in America, they would have put this out, there would have been the exchange of ideas, and we would have quickly identified the kinds of things that needed to be done in response,” he said.
“Instead, China behaved like authoritarian regimes do. It attempted to conceal and hide and confuse. It employed the World Health Organization as a tool to do the same. These are the kind of things that have now presented this enormous crisis, an enormous loss of life, and tremendous economic cost all across the globe. The Australians agree with that. You hear the Europeans beginning to say the same thing. I think the whole world is united in understanding that China brought this virus to the world,” he said.
Pompeo sidestepped a question over whether he believed the virus was released by accident or intentionally.
“We’ve done our best to try and answer all of those questions. We tried to get a team in there. The World Health Organization tried to get a team in there. And they have failed. No one has been allowed to go to this lab or any of the other laboratories. There are many labs inside of China, Martha,” he said.
“This risk remains. This is an ongoing challenge. We still need to get in there. We still don’t have the virus samples we need. This is an ongoing threat, an ongoing pandemic, and the Chinese Communist Party continues to block access to the Western world, the world’s best scientists, to figure out exactly what happened. So I can’t answer your question about that because the Chinese Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts,” he said.
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