Top General Says U.S. Doesn't Know If Coronavirus Emerged from Wuhan Lab, Contradicting Trump and Pompeo

A top Army General on Tuesday said U.S. officials still do not know whether the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese wet market or lab in Wuhan, contradicting President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as tension between the two nations continue to escalate amid the pandemic.

"Did it come out of the virology lab in Wuhan? Did it occur in a wet market there in Wuhan? Did it occur somewhere else? And the answer to that is: We don't know," Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a press briefing. He reaffirmed the U.S. intelligence community's view that the virus was unlikely to have been man-made but noted that the federal government is still investigating its origins.

Milley's remarks were in direct contrast to Trump and Pompeo's recent assessment, but echoed Dr. Anthony Fauci's sentiment on the matter.

Trump on Thursday said he's seen evidence that gives him a high degree of confidence that the coronavirus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Pompeo echoed the president on Sunday, telling ABC News that there's "enormous evidence" that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab and the Chinese government went to great lengths to downplay the severity of the outbreak in the early stages.

Mark Milley
Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifies during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee December 11, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

When asked by This Week host Martha Raddatz whether he believes China intentionally created the virus, Pompeo said, "Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point."

Fauci dismissed the theory in an interview with National Geographic, published Monday. "The best evidence shows the virus behind the pandemic was not made in a lab in China," he said. "Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently maintained their position regarding the absence of human intervention pertaining to the outbreak but noted that intelligence officials were exploring the possibility that the new disease accidentally leaked from the lab, confirming Newsweek's previous reporting.

The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly dismissed America's allegations as lies and defended its handling of the virus. "American politicians have repeatedly ignored the truth and have been telling barefaced lies," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press conference last week. "They have only one objective: shirk their responsibility for their own poor epidemic prevention and control measures, and divert public attention."

Despite their rejection of the theory, the U.S. and China have continued to trade jabs and allegations over their respective handling of the global pandemic, with each attempting to shift the blame onto the other. Trump, who faces an uncertain reelection campaign, and his Republican allies in Congress have ramped up their escalating confrontation with Beijing.

Four senior Trump administration officials told the Washington Post last week that the federal government has begun exploring various punishments for Beijing's alleged poor handling of the outbreak. Some officials have suggested that the U.S. should wipe some of its debt obligations to the Asian nation as retaliation. When asked to comment, Trump also threatened the use of tariffs.

Newsweek reached out to the White House and the U.S. Department of State for comment. This story will be updated with any response.