A senior scientific adviser at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said he used a personal email account to dodge Freedom of Information Act requests and even deleted some emails during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to federal records obtained by House investigators.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic revealed the emails Thursday, saying that Dr. David Morens, a 25-year National Institutes of Health veteran who served under retired NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, potentially broke the law.
In one alarming exchange, Morens told Bloomberg reporter Jason Gale that the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services prohibited him from “talk[ing] about [COVID] ‘origins’ on the record,” but that he had recently been given latitude to discuss the matter — as long as he didn’t mention his boss.
“Tony doesn’t want his fingerprints on origin stories,” Morens said in the July 29, 2021, email.
The emails — first published by The Intercept — show messages to a group of scientists who published a now-infamous paper in Nature Medicine that attempted to debunk the so-called “lab leak theory,” including the lead author Dr. Kristian Andersen.
On Sept. 7, 2021, EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak also wrote to Morens about The Intercept’s reporting on coronavirus research in Chinese labs, saying: “The lab leakers are already stirring up bulls–t lines of attack that will bring more negative publicity our way — which is what this is about — a way to line up the [gain-of-function] attack on Fauci, or the ‘risky research’ attack on all of us.”
“Do not rule out suing these a–holes for slander,” Morens replied, referring to The Intercept report.
EcoHealth Alliance sent more than $2 million in subgrants from NIH and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Government Accountability Office found earlier this month.
COVID subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) had issued subpoenas on Monday to each author of the February 2020 paper “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” which Fauci had prompted.
Morens also told colleagues he would “always communicate on gmail [sic] because my NIH email is FOIA’d constantly” and that he would “delete anything I don’t want to see in the New York Times.” He also compared lab-leak proponents to Nazi sympathizers.
“They need to be called out,” Morens said in a Sept. 9, 2021, email, referring to people like Rutgers University molecular biologist Richard Ebright, who said evidence supports the lab leak theory.
“Because I am in government I can only fo [sic] this off the record, but I have done do [sic] again and again. Some of them are knowingly promoting false equivalences [sic],” he added. “If they interviewed a Holocaust survivor, they would say they have to give equal time and space to a Nazi murderer. They have no shame.”
Morens did not respond to a request for comment.
Wenstrup has requested the NIAID adviser provide further documentation and sit for a transcribed interview.
“Public health officials are not above the law — especially in times of crisis,” the chairman said in a letter to Morens. “These emails raise additional serious concerns about your objectivity while stationed in the Office of the Director of NIAID—an agency that obligates billions of dollars annually. The Select Subcommittee has questions about whether you made or influenced any funding decisions based on your personal motives or biases towards scientists.”