KEY POINTS

  • Former top intelligence officials worry the president is attempting to politicize intelligence gathering
  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying it's continuing to search for an answer about the origins of the virus
  • Trump has floated the idea of seeking damages from China

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unusual statement Thursday, saying there’s no evidence the coronavirus pandemic originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, amid reports the White House was pressuring intelligence agencies to find a link.

“The entire intelligence community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The intelligence community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” the statement reads.

The statement said intelligence agencies are still trying to determine “whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

The statement followed a report in the New York Times, which reported were being pressed on the question of whether the virus can be tied to a lab, possibly to bolster a threat to seek damages for the economic and human costs the pandemic has wrought floated by Trump this week.

Chinese authorities have discounted the possibility and pushed back by accusing the U.S. military of developing and spreading the pathogen. Experts have ruled out the possibility the virus was developed as a bioweapon although a lab accident has not been ruled out.

The Times said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was pushing intelligence agencies to find more information, highlighting efforts to politicize intelligence gathering.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a Washington Post op-ed Trump’s decision to fire key intelligence officials for not toeing the line has had a dangerous impact.

“President Trump has made no secret of his distaste for the intelligence community’s independence, which is fundamental to its proper functioning. … I have been deeply disturbed watching the president disparage the work of these brave Americans and publicly cast doubt on intelligence findings that run counter to his political narrative,” Warner wrote.

He warned: “If presenting objective information about threats to the United States is treated as political disloyalty to the president, our intelligence community simply cannot function as it was intended to. The consequences of this breakdown will undoubtedly be measured in American lives.”

In an op-ed published this week by Foreign Policy, former acting CIA director Michael Morell, former White House deputy national security adviser Avril Haines and former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen warned Trump is trying to politicize intelligence operations, a dangerous practice given the current situation.

“Trump has repeatedly pressured the intelligence community to present analytic judgments consistent with his views, rather than those of its expert analysts,” they wrote, adding, “The answers to key intelligence questions -- Did the coronavirus emerge from nature or escape from a Chinese lab? To what extent did the Chinese government misrepresent the scope and scale of the epidemic? -- will have profound implications for the future of U.S. national security policy, especially concerning China. We know Trump’s preferred answers to those questions. What we don’t know is whether the career analysts in U.S. intelligence agencies will be allowed to speak the truth when they uncover it.”

US Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is weighing ways the American spy community can pressure countries with anti-LGBT laws US Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is weighing ways the American spy community can pressure countries with anti-LGBT laws Photo: AFP / Odd ANDERSEN