President Trump said Thursday that he had seen evidence to prove that the coronavirus pandemic had spread from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but he declined to detail what that evidence was.
“I’m not allowed to tell you that,” he said at a White House news conference at which he repeatedly accused China’s government of being negligent in its response to the virus, while leaving open the possibility it was intentionally spread.
Speaking to reporters after an event intended to highlight the administration’s efforts to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19, Trump was asked about a statement released Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that stated the U.S. believed the coronavirus was “not manmade or genetically modified.”
Trump seemed unfamiliar with the finding and pressed the reporter for the name of the official behind the statement, which was attributed only to “the Office of Director of National Intelligence.”
The reporter asked the president if he had personally seen evidence that the virus originated in a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Yes, I have,” Trump said.
Pressed later on the specific evidence that gave him confidence that the virus had come from a lab, Trump said, “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Yahoo News was the first to report that U.S. intelligence officials were investigating whether the virus might have escaped from a research facility in Wuhan rather than spreading from a live-animal market, which was the dominant theory at the outset of the pandemic. That is not inconsistent with Thursday’s intelligence community finding that it was “not manmade or genetically modified.” Virology laboratories routinely work on naturally occurring pathogens.
Trump used Thursday’s news conference to level a series of attacks against China, including the suggestion that its government “could have contained” the coronavirus but “chose not to.”
“This is something that could have been contained at the original location, and I think it could have been contained relatively easily,” Trump said. “China’s a very sophisticated country and they could have contained it. They were either unable to, or they chose not to and the world has suffered greatly.”
On the question of why the government in Beijing was slow to contain the outbreak of the disease now designated COVID-19 after it emerged in late December, Trump floated a few different possibilities. Asked if he believed China was withholding information on the coronavirus so as to hurt his chances of being reelected, Trump said he didn’t want to “cast any dispersions [sic],” but added that “China would like to see Sleepy Joe Biden” elected.
“Well, China doesn’t want to see me elected and the reason is we’re getting billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars a month from China,” Trump said. “China never gave our country anything. China never gave us nothing.”
Pressed on whether he believed China had intentionally let the virus spread, Trump said it was a possibility.
“Well they could have done it and I’m just saying, well, one of two things happened: They either didn’t do it, you know they couldn’t do it from a competence standpoint, or they let it spread,” Trump said. “And, you know, I would say probably it got out of control, but you know there’s another case that how come they stopped all the planes, all of the traffic from going into China, but they didn’t stop the planes and the traffic from coming into the United States and from coming into all of Europe? I mean look at Italy, look what happened to Italy.”
On whether he planned to try to hold China accountable for the spread of the coronavirus, Trump stopped short.
“I want to find out what happened,” he said, adding that his administration was investigating the cause of the pandemic.
But at the same time, Trump pointed blame at Beijing’s government.
“They could have stopped it,” Trump said of China. “They are a very brilliant nation, scientifically and otherwise. It got loose, let’s say, and they could have capped it. They could have stopped it, but they didn’t.”
Asked what had changed in his assessment of China’s culpability, after he praised President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak early on, Trump linked the pandemic with the trade deal the U.S. signed with China in January.
“What’s changed is the following: We did a trade deal and everybody was very happy,” Trump said, adding, “So recently we signed a trade deal with China a number of months ago. China’s buying billions of dollars’ worth of our product, our farm product and other product, manufacturing product and it’s been a great deal. But then we noticed a virus and it’s not acceptable what happened. It came out of China and it’s not acceptable what happened.”
Trump said that the U.S. would soon “have the answer” to how the virus originated and “that will determine a lot how I feel about China.”