A top U.S. scientist at a lab in Texas that shared close ties with the Wuhan Institute of Virology was offered a job at a Chinese university about one year after warning Chinese scientists that members of Congress were likely to start an investigation of the COVID-19 lab-leak theory, records obtained by Judicial Watch reveal.
In emails from April 2020, Dr. James W. LeDuc, a professor and former director of Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, warned the top scientist at the Wuhan lab, Dr. Zhengli Shi, that Republican lawmakers were pushing for an investigation of her lab, which received funding from the U.S. government to conduct research into coronaviruses.
“These startling documents show that China had partners here in the United States willing to go to bat for them on the Wuhan lab controversy,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Judicial Watch obtained these email records through a public records request issued to the University of Texas Medical Branch. The Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB is among the largest active bio-containment facilities in the United States, hosting several biosafety level 4 labs where deadly diseases are studied under tight security restrictions.
LeDuc is a renowned expert on biosafety with decades of experience operating BSL-4 labs — the highest safety level designation, reserved for labs that work with the most dangerous pathogens, like the Ebola or Marburg viruses. His lab in Galveston has partnered with China since at least 2013, when construction on the Wuhan Institute began, and he has made several trips to Wuhan to train staff since at least 1986. LeDuc’s Galveston lab also hosted two Chinese post-doctoral students, who were trained to work safely in BSL-4 facilities and who returned to China to work in the Wuhan lab.
The lab-leak origins theory of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, centers on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located near the seafood market to which the first major outbreak of the virus was traced. Though the theory is disputed by scientists who say it is more likely that COVID-19 naturally evolved from an animal host, conclusive evidence pointing toward either origins theory has remained elusive. And while neither hypothesis has been proven, opponents of the lab-leak theory have waged a vigorous campaign to label it “misinformation” and discredit it, often with the help of big tech companies that banned users from discussing the theory at the prompting of top public health officials. Many of these officials never disclosed potential conflicts of interest they would have if the lab-leak theory proved true, such National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose agency provided taxpayer funding for coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab.
The emails obtained by Judicial Watch show that as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other Republicans urged the Trump administration to investigate the Wuhan lab in 2020, LeDuc became aware of their efforts and warned his Chinese colleagues.
An April 16, 2020, email from former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases David Franz to LeDuc carries the subject line “Rubio” and states, “I heard from someone in government this evening that Senator Rubio is starting to push for an investigation regarding Wuhan lab. Just found it on the web at Forbes by Kenneth Repoza. Title of article is ‘eight senators call for investigation into coronavirus origins.'”
The email links to a Forbes article on an effort by Rubio and seven other Republican senators to have Trump appoint a special envoy to investigate the origins of COVID-19 and the lab-leak theory. Records show that LeDuc forwarded this email to Shi, director of the Wuhan lab, requesting a phone conversation with her “soon” to discuss the potential investigation.
Shi wrote back on April 18, 2020, rejecting LeDuc’s request. “Due to the complicated situation, I don’t think it’s a right time to communicate by the call. What I can tell you is that this virus is not a leaky [sic] from our lab or any other labs. It’s a shame to make this scientific question so complicated.”
LeDuc responded that he had been asked to give an accounting of his work with the Wuhan lab to the University of Texas system and was preparing a summary of that work he could provide to university administrators or to members of Congress should he be asked to do so. He offered to let Shi edit the summary of their work together.
Two days later in an April 20, 2020, email, LeDuc wrote to Shi and Dr. Zhiming Yuan, the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, informing them that he is concerned that the Wuhan lab will continue to be the focus of those investigating the origins of COVID-19.
“I’m afraid that this discussion will continue for some time regarding where early coronavirus work was being done, the role, if any, of the Wuhan CDC in research on bat-associated coronaviruses, and exactly when scientists at WIV [Wuhan Institute of Virology] first became aware of the new coronavirus and had possession of specimens in the WIV and where was that work done (level of biocontainment),” LeDuc wrote.
Previously reported emails show that months earlier, LeDuc had pushed his Chinese colleagues to be transparent and answer questions investigators would ask about the possible origins of COVID-19. In February, LeDuc had sent Yuan a series of questions he believed the Wuhan lab would need to answer as part of an investigation into whether COVID-19 was “the result of a release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (main campus or new BSL3/BSL4 facilities).”
The questions he asked were never answered, and China continues to stonewall international investigators.