On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Acting Director Lawrence Tabak, reiterating multi-year requests for an interview with and records from Dr. Ping Chen, a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) official who, in October 2017, informed her colleagues about safety concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
In the letter, the senator revealed the contents of the NIAID official’s 2017 report that included this warning about the lack of training at the WIV: “It is clear to me by talking to the technician that certainly there is a need for training support.”
Since 2021, Sen. Johnson’s oversight efforts have revealed how Dr. Chen’s concerns eventually informed the language in a January 2018 State Department cable about the WIV that stated, “[d]uring interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted that the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
Yet, as a result of HHS’s lack of transparency, the extent to which NIH and NIAID officials took action following receipt of Dr. Chen’s report remains unclear.
HHS has stonewalled and obstructed the senator’s legitimate oversight, forcing his staff to review documents at HHS headquarters (in camera) rather than transparently producing unredacted records to Congress.
However, during these document reviews at HHS headquarters, the senator’s staff transcribed the contents of previously-redacted records—information that HHS refused to hand over to the public via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and to Congress.
In his letter to HHS and NIH, Sen. Johnson identified two images of Dr. Chen’s report. “The image on the left shows what HHS produced publicly via FOIA. On the right is an image of what my staff transcribed during an in camera review of Dr. Chen’s report,” the senator wrote.
Assessing HHS’s redactions, the senator added, “In the public FOIA document, HHS redacted Dr. Chen’s entire report claiming that it contains privacy and deliberative information. Following my staff’s in camera review of the report, it seems apparent that the only reason that HHS redacted this information was to hide the report’s contents from the American people. Perhaps HHS did not want the public to fully understand the fact that NIH and NIAID officials were aware of safety concerns at the WIV dating as far back as 2017.”
Sen. Johnson gave HHS and NIH until October 5, 2023 to provide unredacted records relating to Dr. Chen and the WIV and make Dr. Chen available for an interview.
The full letter can be found here that includes Dr. Chen’s report and the partial contents of communications HHS hid from public view.
Read more about the senator’s September 21, 2023 letter to HHS and NIH in the New York Post.