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 by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
However, one source cautioned to NBC News that the DOE’s conclusion was not being viewed as hugely significant among the intelligence community due to interagency disagreements about Covid’s origins.
The classified report maintains the consensus that Covid-19 was not the result of a Chinese bioweapon, according to a U.S. official. In its assessment, the DOE also described the “likely” laboratory-related leak as an “accident,” the official added.
The Department of Energy is one of 18 government departments and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
A spokesperson for the DOE told NBC News 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, on Sunday called 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” about 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 that 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, previously calling the theory a “conspiracy.”
House Republicans have kicked off their own investigations into the origins of the pandemic.
The ODNI responded to a Feb. 13 letter from Reps. James Comer, chair of the Oversight Committee, and Brad Wenstrup, chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, requesting “information about the origins of COVID-19,” a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee told NBC News Sunday. The committee is “reviewing the classified information provided,” the spokesperson said.
The White House referred NBC News to ODNI for comment.
Asked about the classified report on Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that “there is not a definitive answer” from the intelligence community on 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,” Jake Sullivan 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,” Jake Sullivan added. “But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”