President Trump claimed Thursday he's seen evidence the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab and he threatened tariffs on Beijing over its role in the global pandemic. The president's assertion was undermined by his intelligence office and his top diplomat, who said, "We don't know precisely where it began."
Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market selling exotic animals for meat.
But speculation has swirled about a top-secret lab, reinforced by internet rumors and right-wing radio hosts -- and increasingly taken up by Mr. Trump.
Asked if he had seen anything giving him a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the outbreak, the president replied, "Yes, I have."
He refused to give details.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated he hadn't seen definitive evidence.
"We don't know precisely where it began," he said. "We don't know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We don't know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We don't know those answers."
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the coronavirus "was not manmade or genetically modified" but investigations into the origins of the outbreak are ongoing.
Beijing has denied the lab was the source of the virus.
Last month, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, "(World Health Organization) officials have repeatedly stated that there is no single evidence that the new coronavirus was produced in a laboratory."
"Many well-known medical experts in the world also believe that the so-called laboratory leak hypothesis has no scientific basis."
Mr. Trump is making Beijing's handling of the outbreak a major issue for his November re-election campaign.
When asked about reports that he could cancel U.S. debt obligations to China, Trump said he could "do it differently" and act in "more of a forthright manner".
"I could do the same thing but even for more money, just putting on tariffs," he said.
First published on May 1, 2020 / 6:11 AM
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