House GOP Probes NIH Officer in COVID-19 Cover-Up


House Republicans are investigating evidence that senior leadership at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) deliberately circumvented Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other oversight activities during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) wrote to current NIH Director Monica Bertagnolli on Tuesday, seeking more details about the agency’s document retention, personal email, and FOIA policies.

His request follows the discovery that David Morens, a former senior adviser to Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), used his personal email to evade FOIA and received help from the agency’s “foia lady” to obscure public records requests.

“This evidence taken together suggests a conspiracy at the highest levels of NIH and NIAID to avoid public transparency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wenstrup wrote to Bertagnolli. “If what appears in these documents is true, this is an apparent attack on public trust and must be met with swift enforcement and consequences for those involved.”

In an email exchange between Morens and former NIH employee Gerald Keusch in February 2021, Morens mentioned the “foia lady” coaching him on how to delete emails from NIH records.

Keusch advised Morens to use his personal email for sensitive discussions about COVID-19 to protect their mutual friend Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, which had funded coronavirus research in Wuhan, China, with an NIH grant.

“You are right, I need to be more careful,” Morens responded to Keusch. “However, as I mentioned once before, I learned from our foia lady here how to make emails disappear after I am foia’d but before the search starts, so I think we are all safe. Plus I deleted most of those earlier emails after sending them to Gmail.”

Morens informed the select subcommittee when testifying in an open hearing last week that he had consulted with the public records officer for NIAID, who had said there was no way to permanently delete emails from NIH records.

Fauci’s top adviser also stated to the subcommittee last week that he did not realize emails from his government account were considered federal records.

Evidence uncovered by the subcommittee also suggests that NIAID staff habitually misspelled keywords, such as COVID and EcoHealth, in their email communications to evade FOIA requests with specific keyword searches.

“After an agency receives a FOIA request, it is common to employ keyword search terms to identify and subsequently produce responsive documents to the requester,” Wenstrup wrote to Bertagnolli. “However, it can be undermined by government employees that strategically use language to avoid keyword searches.”

The NIH did not respond to Truth Voices’s request for comment on the letter.

Although the select subcommittee is sharply divided on the origins of COVID-19, there is strong bipartisan agreement that accountability for potential corruption in government health agencies is essential to restoring public trust.

The leading Democrat on the subcommittee, Raul Ruiz (D-CA), said in his opening statement at Morens’s hearing last week that the adviser’s behavior “willingly betrays decades of dedication, diligence, and decorum for the thousands of federal scientists and public health workers who came before [him].”

“It is not anti-science to hold you accountable for defying the public’s trust and misusing official resources,” Ruiz said to Morens.

The legal counsel for Morens did not respond to Truth Voices’s request for comment.

Wenstrup has requested a briefing from the NIH regarding the agency’s records policy to occur no later than June 4, one day after Fauci is scheduled to testify before the subcommittee.

Gabrielle M. Etzel
Gabrielle M. Etzel
Healthcare Reporter. Previously, Etzel served as a staff reporter at Campus Reform and as a freelance writer. After graduating from Grove City College, she earned her master's in public policy and administration from Baylor University, where she conducted research on domestic sex trafficking. In her free time, Etzel enjoys being with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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