The theory has been pushed by supporters of the President, including some congressional Republicans, who are eager to deflect criticisms of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
US intelligence is reviewing sensitive intelligence collection aimed at the Chinese government, according to the intelligence source, as they pursue the theory. But some intelligence officials say it is possible the actual cause may never be known.
Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Mark Milley acknowledged this week that US intelligence is taking “a hard look” at the question of whether the novel coronavirus originated in a lab.
“I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural (origin). But we don’t know for certain,” Milley told reporters on Tuesday.
“A majority of the views right now is that (the virus) is natural — it was organic,” Esper said, but noted additional investigative work needs to be done.
“China’s position has been clear on the origin and transmission routes of the novel coronavirus,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday. “The head of the World Health Organization has repeatedly stated that there hasn’t been any evidence pointing to the virus being lab-created. Many renowned medical experts around the world have also described theories such as ‘lab leaks’ as lacking any scientific proof.”
A source close to the White House coronavirus task force also cautioned that “every time there is an outbreak someone proposes that the virus or other pathogen came out of a lab.”
One official called the way China has handled dealing with the virus “completely reprehensible” — and intelligence investigators are determined to build a fuller picture of how it originated.
“The Chinese Communist Party didn’t give Americans access when we needed it in that most timely point at the very beginning,” Pompeo said earlier this week. “Then we know they have this lab. We know about the wet (fresh food) markets. We know that the virus itself did originate in Wuhan. So all those things come together. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and this is what the President was talking about today. We need to know answers to these things.”
Some of the officials said the US intends for China to pay a price, but recognize the US has to be careful not to inflict a cost on China before the pandemic is under control and until they have more information about its creation.
CLARIFICATION: This story and its headline have been updated to more precisely describe that the US government is looking into the possibility the virus spread from a Chinese laboratory. It has also been updated with comments by Sec. Esper.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.