The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Republican of Ohio, that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, March 5, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Ohio Congressman Brad Wenstrup, who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. Doctor, welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE BRAD WENSTRUP: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are 18 different intelligence agencies in this country, no consensus on COVID’s origins. Two intel agencies undecided, four say it was natural transmission. And then last week, we learned that the Energy Department has joined the FBI in saying the virus likely spread through a mishap at a Chinese lab. Is all of the evidence circumstantial? Have you seen the intelligence?
REP. WENSTRUP: I’ve seen quite a bit of intelligence, as you might imagine, sitting on the Intelligence Committee. We haven’t seen all that we want to see necessarily. And some of it is very classified that I have seen. And so we have to continue driving forward and getting questions answered because the more we find, the more questions we may have. So you do have a variety of opinions. And really, what we are trying to do is to follow the breadcrumbs, if you will. Look at the forensics of what took place. Obviously, this is one of the most serious things that ever- has ever happened to mankind. And so it is important to find the origins of COVID. And so we’re going to continue to investigate. And I encourage the agencies to continue to look into this as apparently they have been doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you expect the FBI and the Energy Department to testify to your committee?
REP. WENSTRUP: That- there may come a time for that. I would hope that they do it willingly and it depends on which committee you’re talking about, because some of the testimony likely at this point would be classified. And we would have that in the Intelligence Committee. And then others may be on the subcommittee–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
REP. WENSTRUP: where it’s more open source or non-classified material. So it may be a combination of both.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So if this was indeed the result of a lab leak, what is Congress doing to prevent this from ever happening again?
REP. WENSTRUP: Well, it’s interesting, that’s kind of the role of the subcommittee, if you will, this is an after-action review in my mind, and we want to find lessons learned along the way. And we want to have the best path forward. And I’m hoping at the end of the day with the subcommittee, that we have a bipartisan product that can really help us with our readiness going into the future. I keep using a variety of terms that we want to be able to predict a pandemic, we want to prepare for a pandemic, we want to protect ourselves from a pandemic and hopefully prevent a pandemic. And that should be our goal. And we’re going to have to work with a lot of scientists and specialists to be able to do that. But we have to get to the truth of what actually happened in this pandemic. And what- how we responded, the subcommittee’s looking at everything: the effects on education, the effects on people’s health, the effects of the programs that we as Congress put in place, and looking at some of the fraud or abuse that may have taken place, but also origins of COVID. I am–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
REP. WENSTRUP: we’re looking at all these things across the board, what we did right and what we did wrong and how we can do better in the future.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, in terms of the specifics, I know the White House is said to be considering recommendations from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to put oversight on gain of function experiments, those are the things that I guess genetically alter a virus to enhance its functions and maybe make it more deadly. This was allegedly what was happening at this lab in Wuhan. Would you want this kind of regulation? And does that come from the White House? Does that come from Congress?
REP. WENSTRUP: Well, it may be a combination of both at the end of the day. And I think it is important that we do that. Look, if we were taking- taking taxpayer dollars to fund research, not only in the United States but in China, concerning this type of methodology, the creation of a chimera, or it’s called gain of function research, where you can take two viruses and put them into one. I don’t see a whole lot of commercial use for that necessarily. So it’s something that if it’s going to take place, it certainly should have oversight or should have had oversight. In 2015, Ralph Baric in North Carolina, along with Dr. Zhengli Shi in China, published their article about the ability to create these chimeras, and they did that, so we know that this technology exists. My real question is why are we doing this with an adversary like China? And we have to look into what the reasoning was for that, and what actually took place, where the money went, and why did it go there?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I know that there has been a lot of focus on Dr. Fauci who has since retired from NIH. And I wonder if you think that it is misplaced to personalize the scrutiny so much when the intelligence agencies are all so divided? I mean, can you reasonably probe this question in a bipartisan way without villainizing people?
REP. WENSTRUP: Well, I think that’s the goal. I mean, I just want to get to the facts. And when I was asked to chair this select subcommittee, one of the first things I did was call Dr. Raul Ruiz, Democrat from California, Emergency Physician. As physicians, we have worked on many bills together. And we get along very well. We may disagree on a lot of other policies. But we work very well together, especially when it comes to health. And this – certainly this is a health issue. I asked him to try and get on the subcommittee and possibly be ranking member. And he did get that position. And I think we’re on the same page of what we want to do to conduct this professionally. There’s going to be some moments I’m sure of some emotions flaring. The last three years have been tough on everybody.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
REP. WENSTRUP: But at the same time, let’s just stick to the facts and- and gather what we know from what we know, and- and who has that information.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think a lot of people would welcome just sticking to the facts, which is why I want to ask you about the membership on your committee because you have Marjorie Taylor Greene on it. She shared misleading information about deaths and COVID vaccines. She compared vaccines to Nazis, forcing Jews to wear gold stars. Dr. Ronny Jackson, who said masks never worked. He called the Omicron variant, the midterm election variant. How do people take your committee work seriously with members like this on it?
REP. WENSTRUP: Well, I think we have a lot of serious members that, on both sides of the aisle, that are- are just after the truth. I think that they come from a variety of backgrounds. Look, there were things that were said, Hey, this is a conspiracy theory, stop this conspiracy theory that it may have come from the lab. Well, now you have agencies that are coming forward and saying that we do think it came from the lab. Look, we have to conduct ourselves in a way that is professional, and I hope that we will. I can’t control everybody. And–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
REP. WENSTRUP: that goes on both sides of the aisle. Dr. Ruiz can’t- can’t either. But at the same time, what I’m seeing from- from all the members is that they have backgrounds of severe interest, significant interest, they either owned a business, they’re health care providers, they’re concerned about the adverse events that may come from the vaccine. These are legitimate things for Americans to be concerned about–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
REP. WENSTRUP: And through this process, I think we took doctors out of the equation all too often, and left it up to non-physicians to tell America how to treat themselves.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re from Ohio, so I want to make sure I ask you about what was a second train derailment from Norfolk Southern in your state yesterday, on top of this toxic one. President Biden has praised some of the bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would increase railway safety. Do you see a need for this kind of legislation right now?
REP. WENSTRUP: Well, certainly in any after-action review or review of something that happened, if we see that there’s some gaps in our safety, then we should take a look at that. Let’s not put things out there that aren’t necessarily facts and say that there was a safety issue if it wasn’t. But at the same time, you do want to address these issues. Look, we’re always trying to do better, I hope that we can. And the other thing that I would like to see come out of all this, especially with the one where there was such a chemical toxic reaction, and with the fires that were started from the derailment, is do we have a standard operating procedure of how do we manage a community? What is our reaction from the government? What are we looking for? How do we protect our people? Let’s make sure that we have a good standard operating procedure, so although these instances are rare, according to the numbers, we have to be prepared for that 0.1% or whatever the case may be.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Dr. Wenstrup. We’ll be watching the hearing this week. Thanks for your time. We’ll be right back.
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