WASHINGTON — The Energy Department concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid-19 pandemic “likely” originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China, according to a classified report delivered to key lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees, two sources with direct knowledge told NBC News.
Key lawmakers on the intelligence committees were briefed last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the classified report, the sources said.
The news was first reported Sunday by The Wall Street Journal.
However, a source cautioned that the Energy Department’s conclusion was not being viewed as hugely significant among the intelligence community because of interagency disagreements about Covid’s origins.
The classified report maintains the consensus that Covid-19 was not the result of a Chinese bioweapon, a U.S. official said. In its assessment, the Energy Department also described the “likely” laboratory-related leak as an “accident,” the official added.
The Energy Department is one of 18 government departments and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
A spokesperson for the Energy Department said in a statement that the agency “continues to support the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as the President directed.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, called Sunday for “extensive public hearings” if the U.S. intelligence community conclusively determines that Covid-19 leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
Asked on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” what the consequences should be if the U.S. makes that determination and then discovers it was covered up by the Chinese government, Sullivan said lawmakers must first “have public hearings on this and really dig into it.”
“Think about what just happened over the last three years, one of the biggest pandemics in a century. A lot of evidence that it’s coming from the Chinese,” Sullivan said.
China has denied that Covid originated from a laboratory leak, having previously called the theory a “conspiracy.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a news briefing that origins tracing of Covid-19 “shouldn’t be politicized,” pointing to an earlier report of the World Health Organization and China that called a lab leak unlikely.
“Relevant sides should stop hyping up the lab leak theory and stop smearing China and politicizing the origin tracing issue,” Mao said.
House Republicans have kicked off their own investigations into the origins of the pandemic.
The National Intelligence Director’s Office responded to a Feb. 13 letter from Reps. James Comer, R-Ky., the chair of the Oversight Committee, and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, the chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, requesting “information about the origins of COVID-19,” a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee said Sunday. The committee is “reviewing the classified information provided,” the spokesperson said.
The White House referred to the National Intelligence Director’s Office for comment.
Asked about the classified report Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said “there is not a definitive answer” from the intelligence community about the origins of Covid.
“There is a variety of views in the intelligence community. Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them have said they just don’t have enough information to be sure,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“If we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people,” he added. “But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”