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Top NIH Official Investigated for Alleged FOIA Evasion in COVID-19 Origin Probe

Lawmakers say evidence 'suggests a conspiracy at the highest levels' of government

Top NIH Official Investigated for Alleged FOIA Evasion in COVID-19 Origin Probe

A top official within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is under investigation amid allegations that he mishandled government information, engaging in activities intended to have documents be excluded from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Chairman of the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, launched an inquiry into the alleged cover-up, advising both the NIH and National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) of the probe.

In a letter to the NIH, Wenstrup asserts that Dr. David Morens, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Senior Scientific Advisor, used personal email accounts to intentionally avoid transparency through FOIA requests.

Wenstrup also states that Morens “intentionally deleted official records” pertaining to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic for the purpose of “avoidance of public accountability.”

The subcommittee states that Morens was motivated by his personal relationship with Dr. Peter Daszak, who worked at nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance (ECA), to help him avoid scrutiny.

EcoHealth used taxpayer funds to conduct gain-of-function research at the Wuhan, China lab suspected of being the source of the COVID pandemic through a lab leak.

An email from Morens to Daszak dated January 21, 2022 says that Morans had just received a FOIA request seeking all correspondence with anyone at EcoHealth going back five years.

“Do you know these guys?” Morens asked. “From their website they sound like they have done a lot of alarmist things.”

In response, Daszak said, “They’re awful” and are just seeking to drum up controversy over whether the COVID virus emerged from a lab leak in Wuhan, China. “I hope NIH can help reduce the amount that comes out — some of the emails between us all via your NIH account were a bit embarrassing re: criticizing the lab leakers and will be reported as showing that we were ‘conspiring’ together in some way.”

A separate message released by the subcommittee “suggests that NIAID employees used the NIH FOIA Office to assist in the concealment or destruction of official records,” according to the subcommittee’s report.

“You are right, I need to be more careful,” Morens stated in a message from his personal gmail account.

“However, as I mentioned once before, I learned from our foia lady here how to make emails disappear after I am foia’d but before the search starts, so I think we are all safe,” he continued. “Plus I deleted most of those earlier emails after sending them to gmail.”

Daszak was recently suspended by the Department of Health and Human Services, which also recommended that he be debarred.

Lawmakers state there is evidence that “a common tactic” used within NIAID and by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s former-Chief of Staff, Greg Folkers, was to strategically use language to avoid key word searches. The subcommittee said that NIH officials used personal encrypted email accounts, intentionally misspelled keywords likely to be used in a FOIA request, and forwarded confidential material to personal email accounts, in an apparent attempt to violate federal law.

“This evidence taken together suggests a conspiracy at the highest levels of NIH and NIAID to avoid public transparency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic,” the subcommittee wrote in the letter. “If what appears in these documents is true, this is an apparent attack on public trust and must be met with swift enforcement and consequences for those involved.”

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