Washington — Former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who served under former President Donald Trump, claimed China attempted to cover up the coronavirus in the early days of the crisis, cutting out its Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and instead relying on its military to contain the deadly virus.
In an interview with "Face the Nation" that aired Sunday, Pottinger said the head of the Chinese CDC was unaware the coronavirus was spreading throughout the nation until late December 2019.
"It looks like the Chinese CDC to some extent was cut out because the Chinese Communist Party turned to its military to try to cover this thing up, to try to contain it until it was too late," Pottinger said. "And the consequences we're all feeling now."
The first cases of the coronavirus were discovered in Wuhan, China, though the virus' exact origins remain unclear. Still, Mr. Trump and other top officials in his administration criticized Beijing for its handling of the pandemic, which has led to more than 2.4 million deaths worldwide. In the United States, the death toll from COVID-19 is approaching 500,000.
Reflecting on the early days of the pandemic, Pottinger said there "undoubtedly" were Chinese officials who wanted to share information about the coronavirus but couldn't do so.
"I think that no doubt, there were people who wanted to share much more aggressively but were being muzzled by the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
There were many officials across all levels of government, he said, "who were all being told shut your mouths. Don't send notes on your WeChat account about it. Don't send social media. Don't tell anyone. You've got to keep this thing secret."
The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched anto determine the origins of the coronavirus. But national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the White House has "questions about the process used to reach" the probe's early findings and stressed it's "imperative" for the report to be independent, "with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government." Sullivan called for the Chinese government to make available its data from the first days of the coronavirus outbreak.
Pottinger praised Sullivan for the statement and said the World Health Organization "has a lot to answer for."
"The World Health Organization made all sorts of untruthful or misinformed claims about this virus — that it doesn't spread human to human, that it's not asymptomatic. They praised the Chinese government for shutting down domestic travel in China while simultaneously criticizing the United States for shutting down international travel, which is a morally and logically indefensible position," Pottinger said.
He claimed the panel of investigators sent to China by the WHO is "deeply conflicted" and composed of people who were hand-picked by the Chinese government.
"You have a situation where it's like you're turning to the rabbits to investigate what happened to the lettuce that they were guarding," he said. "And so it's not a credible exercise that we've seen undertaken to get to the roots of where this thing originated."
Pottinger said while many questions have been raised as to the origins of the coronavirus, it's unlikely researchers with the WHO will provide answers. U.S. intelligence, meanwhile, has said COVID-19 was not man-made or genetically modified.
"The Chinese government's making it very difficult to pin down and pursue hard evidence," he said. "But if you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak."