In 2014, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided grants to EcoHealth Alliance, a global nonprofit organization which funds research on infectious diseases - including studies of bat coronaviruses in partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has become the focus of international investigations into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 15, when there were just 2 million cases and 128,000 COVID-19 deaths according to official counts (currently at 6.3 million infected / 376,000 fatalities), an organization called White Coat Waste filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NIH for all correspondence with the State Department regarding the WIV, according to National Review.
Four days later, on April 19, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Michel Lauer, wrote in a letter to EcoHealth: "There are now allegations that the current crisis was precipitated by the release from Wuhan Institute of Virology of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Given these concerns, we are pursuing suspension of Wuhan Institute of Virology from participation in federal programs."
Five days later, Lauer told the organization: "the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an Institute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has elected to terminate the project . . . NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities."
So - nine days after the FOIA request from White Coat Waste to the NIH requesting communications with the State Department about the Wuhan institute, the NIH cuts funding to EcoHealth, the organization funneling US taxpayer funds to the lab experimenting with coronaviruses.
The FOIA request hit a brick wall on May 22, however, when the NIH's FOIA officer, Gorka Garcia-Malene, wrote back:
The records you requested involve pending investigations. I have determined to withhold those records pursuant to Exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. § 552 and (b)(7)(a), and section 5.31 (g)(l) of the HHS FOIA Regulations, 45 CFR Part 5. Exemption 7(A) permits the withholding of investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
Lauer, in his original correspondence to EcoHealth, wrote "it is in the public interest that NIH ensure that a sub-recipient has taken all appropriate precautions to prevent the release of pathogens that it is studying."
And according to National Review, it is unknown if the "pending investigation" and "law enforcement proceedings" are simply the NIH review - or if it refers to a broader criminal investigation of the WIV conducted by the US Justice Department and partner intelligence agencies. Of note, the NIH has its own police forces, but the Department of Health and Human Services would refer civil or criminal cases to the DOJ.
In April, Australia's Daily Telegraph reported that "the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, NZ, UK and US, are understood to be looking closely at the work of a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Peng Zhou, as they examine whether COVID-19 originated from a wet market or whether the naturally-occurring virus may have been released from the level four laboratory in Wuhan that was studying deadly coronavirus pathogens from bats."
And, at least for now, the general public won't find out what the US State Department and the NIH discussed regarding the entire matter.