Trump undercuts US intel community by claiming he’s seen evidence coronavirus originated in Chinese lab

The comments support a public statement from The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued just hours earlier stating that no such assessment has been made and continues to "carefully investigate" whether the outbreak "began through contact with infected animals or whether it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan."

"Yes, I have," Trump said when asked if he has seen evidence to suggest the virus originated in the lab. Later, Trump asked why he was confident in that assessment.

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"I can't tell you. I'm not allowed to tell you," he said.

In recognition of this effort, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Thursday issued a unique public statement before Trump's comments, which made it clear that the intelligence community is currently investigating two possibilities but cannot yet assess whether the outbreak "was the result of an accident" at a laboratory in Wuhan "or began" through contact with infected animals. "

It is unusual for the intelligence community to comment on their work publicly before a formal assessment is made. Thursday's statement appears to have come in response to growing questions about the origin of the virus as Trump administration officials have spent several weeks floating the theory that the virus originated in a Chinese lab.

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Trump said Thursday that there were "many theories" he would consider, but seemed to endure the hope that Beijing would eventually come up with what it knows about the origin of the virus.

"China can tell us that," he said.

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Pressure from Trump officials

Despite warnings from scientists and intelligence professionals that the United States may never know the exact origin of the virus, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has continued to press the intelligence community for precise details of the virus's origin, CNN has learned.

As a result, intelligence officials face tremendous pressure to determine if the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, two sources familiar with their frustration told CNN. While the intelligence community has been on the watch to share details of the demands coming from the Trump administration, officials have told allies that the situation inside is alarming.

New York Times: Top administration officials have pushed intelligence agencies to connect coronavirus to Chinese laboratories
The New York Times was the first to report Thursday that a number of top Trump officials have pushed US intelligence agencies to look at the origins of the new coronavirus to "hunt for evidence" that links the virus to a Chinese lab.
While the White House and the Department of Foreign Affairs have urged intelligence officials to find evidence backing up the theory that the outbreak can be traced back to a Chinese laboratory, the intelligence community made it clear on Thursday that they have did not reach a final conclusion in addition to excluding theories that the virus was man-made or genetically modified.

"The IC will continue to carefully investigate new information and intelligence to determine if the outbreak began in contact with infected animals or whether it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan," the statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence states on behalf of the entire community said.

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The United States is exploring the possibility that the spread of coronavirus started in the Chinese lab, not a market

Although the statement suggests that the intelligence community has not yet developed a clear assessment of how the outbreak started, it does say that officials have ruled out the possibility that the virus was "man-made or genetically modified" and agreed to a close consensus among scientists and rebuffed conspiracy theories.

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Trump was asked for the statement for the first time shortly after it was released, but responded by defending his handling of the situation and pushing back on reports that warnings of a pervasive outbreak were included in his January and February daily briefs.

"Well, I haven't seen the report yet, but I want to tell you. If you talk to the intelligence chief right now, you talk to the boss, they said I got an orientation when I said I got it, not before, and they also said it was not specific and that it was not a panic briefing, "Trump said, referring to acting DNI Richard Grenell despite not being dropped at work until February.

Trump's more direct comments on the origin of the outbreak came when he was asked about the case for the second time Thursday.

& # 39; He doesn't like information & # 39;

Trump's tough relationship with the intelligence community dates back to the earliest days of his presidency, when he routinely questioned their opinions, especially their conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

The pressure on intelligence agencies to provide evidence related to the pandemic's origins stems in part from Trump's handling of intelligence, the former administration chief said.

Trump doesn't spend much time pouring through the daily briefs. Instead, the president prefers intelligence officials to present him with political ideas, rather than raw information, which is a practice that runs counter to the tradition of the intelligence community, a former official said.

"He doesn't like information," said the official. "He likes decision points."

Normally, the IC presents information so that the administration can make a political decision, they added.

Earlier this week, the White House defended its focus on the Chinese laboratories, saying that the intelligence community was tasked with determining whether the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, a National Security Council spokeswoman referred to a White House spokesman Gidley.

Earlier this week, the White House defended its focus on the Chinese laboratory.

"As the president has said, the United States is investigating this matter thoroughly," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said. "Understanding the origin of the virus is important to help the world respond to this pandemic, but also to inform rapid response efforts for future outbreaks of infectious diseases."

US intelligence agencies started tracking coronavirus outbreaks in China as early as November

But the lack of evidence to back up allegations that the outbreak began in a Chinese lab has not prevented top administration officials, including Pompeo, and some Republican allies from the president from raising the possibility in public comment.

"We still haven't got access, the world hasn't got access to WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) there. We don't know exactly where this virus originated," Pompeo said Wednesday.

And it appears that the message campaign is a coordinated effort between the administration and like-minded lawmakers who have been in regular contact with the White House in recent weeks, according to several sources.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is among those who have spoken regularly with White House officials throughout the lockdown on the origin of the virus, including personal conversations with NSC and member briefings, according to a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive matters.

The administration came to the conclusion a long time ago that it is likely, if not likely, the virus escaped from the lab and spread through the market, not the other way around, the Cruz staff said.

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also called for an investigation into the origin of the virus and China's handling of the outbreak.

Like Cruz, McCaul believes the virus is likely to have escaped from a Chinese laboratory by accident, but has requested further information from the White House on the matter, according to the aides.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty surrounding the origin of the virus extends to the US's closest intelligence partners. The US evidence shared with the Allied intelligence division known as Five Eyes does not guide a theory in or out, according to a foreign official in regular contact with the Trump administration.

The Trump administration is preparing plans to punish China for coronavirus outbreaks

"No one is able to stay one way or the other," the official said, highlighting – as American officials have – the lack of an independent team on the ground. "We just don't know enough," the official added.

Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that Trump has led a full investigation into the nature and origin of the coronavirus in China as well as China's behavior as the United States has come through the ongoing epidemic.

"I fully expect the president to consider a range of options to ensure that those who did not come with the American people, in China or the World Health Organization, are held accountable."

However, Trump has praised China on several occasions, as of late this month.

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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