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Sen. Ron Johnson: The 180-Degree Turn on the COVID Lab Leak Theory

The COVID-19 lab leak theory—once widely labeled as a “conspiracy theory”—is now back at the forefront of national discussion.

After growing calls to investigate the virus’s origins, on May 26, President Joe Biden issued a statement saying the U.S. intelligence community is divided on whether the virus emerged from a natural source or a lab accident.

Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated on May 11 that he is now “not convinced” that the virus developed naturally. Facebook has stated it will no longer remove posts that claim COVID-19 was man-made. And PolitiFact has quietly retracted a September 2020 fact check.

In this episode, we sit down with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to discuss what’s going on. What information was withheld from the American public?

Jan Jekielek: Senator Johnson, it’s so good to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Sen. Ron Johnson: It’s good to be back.

Mr. Jekielek: There has been a flurry of legislative activity in the Senate related to this coronavirus Wuhan lab leak theory, which is something that you’ve talked a lot about in the past. Why this flurry, why now?

Sen. Johnson: Well, it really began—the log jam on this particular issue was broken when Nicholas Wade, the former science writer for The New York Times wrote a very long but very detailed article laying out certainly what he knew about the two competing theories, either just a natural evolution of this virus or one that was created in the lab, through things like gain of function and possibly a leak from the Wuhan lab.

And so, although he didn’t come to a conclusion, he basically came to a conclusion. The point I want to make is it’s going to take that type of media attention to it, inquisitive and hopefully unbiased reporters, which we have fewer and fewer of nowadays, to really dig into the story.

Listen, I support all these efforts legislatively. I’m not going to hold my breath that the intelligence community is going to give us anything that we don’t already know. I certainly have not had a very good experience of getting relevant and important information out of the agencies, and that was even under the Trump administration.

So, there’s a reason we need a free press. There’s a reason we need an inquisitive press. Sources, whistle blowers, will go to reporters, because they know they remain anonymous, so the press is almost always ahead of everybody else when it comes to breaking these stories.

And the fact that the press has been in the tank for those individuals that have been using COVID to control our society, that they’ve been in the tank for people like Dr. Fauci, who I started losing confidence in very, very early on in the pandemic, particularly on one conference call we had as he was contemplating or pushing all these shutdowns. I asked him, “Dr. Fauci, are you at all considering the human toll of the economic devastation that is going to be a result of what you are promoting here? These economic shutdowns.” And his answer to me was really quite glib. “Senator, that’s not my department.”

When you’re a doctor, you need to be treating the whole patient, and he wasn’t treating the whole patient. He wasn’t considering the enormous economic devastation, human toll of that. Let’s face it, I don’t think he has been straightforward with the American public in many aspects of this COVID from the start.

The minute that Tom Cotton, on intelligence committee—he would never say this one way or the other, so it’s only my assumption—he must’ve seen something in his work on the intelligence committee, the minute he talked about the Wuhan lab, I have to admit, of the two theories, I always felt that one was probably the best theory, but you couldn’t even bring it up.

I’m fighting battles with the media. I’m under enough attack, there are enough fronts that I’m battling on. I just didn’t want to reopen that one.

But the fact of the matter is, the lab leakage, the gain of function research, funded by NIH and NIAID, the organization that Fauci heads, the grants that he approves of, this information has been hidden in plain sight for months, but the mainstream media was not interested in it, until Nicholas Wade wrote his story.

Now, all of a sudden, that’s broken the log jam. And I’m grateful that now people are starting to look into this, because it’s an important story that needs to be fully investigated and fully reported.

Mr. Jekielek: To your point, in April 2020 that we published our documentary, “Tracking Down the Origins of Wuhan Coronavirus.” I think it got 100 million views, but at that point, Facebook slapped it with a label saying that it was some kind of misinformation. There was a false fact check and there was even a situation where the fact checker was someone who was actually affiliated with the Wuhan lab or had worked there before. It was just kind of unbelievable.

Sen. Johnson: Well, what’s also unbelievable is all the suppression of information regarding treatment. Doctors early on, when they realized ventilators weren’t working, you’d have courageous doctors trying to use the information technology we have at our disposal. Doctors that had the compassion to treat COVID patients were actually practicing medicine in the midst of a pandemic when people were dying, willing to try different things, like repurpose cheap, generic drugs.

The media and social media began censoring and suppressing that information. And as a result, I think, tens of thousands of people lost their lives that didn’t have to. In my own case, I held hearings on early treatment, two of them, with eminently qualified doctors, again, who had the compassion of actually treating COVID patients. They were dismissed and vilified, for example, by the Democrat witness Dr. [Ashish] Jha, who in testimony said he had never treated any COVID patient.

The New York Times after the first hearing wrote an article labeling myself and three eminently qualified doctors as snake oil salesman of the Senate. And then in my second hearing, we had Dr. Pierre Kory talking about Ivermectin. His 10 minute opening statement went viral, 8 million views, until YouTube took it down and censored it.

The media and social media have an awful lot to account for, but here’s the problem. They will never admit they were wrong. The people running these health care agencies that did virtually nothing to robustly explore different treatment options using repurposed cheap, generic drugs, they will never admit they’re wrong. 

And from my standpoint, that’s going to be the biggest log jam to really initiating the best policies to move forward, because even with the vaccine, we’re still going to need treatment for COVID, because people will still get COVID or possibly variants of COVID.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s incredible actually, when you frame it this way. There have even been examples where a New York Times reporter for COVID was basically calling discussion of the lab theory or, I think, the origin of the theory of the Wuhan lab leak as something that was racist, which I thought was really interesting and kind of concerning. That’s recently.

Sen. Johnson: Of course, now what they’re doing is they’re vilifying myself and Senator Paul. We both had COVID. In my case, I just recently had an antibody test and I have the same level of antibodies as the doctor who prescribed me the test, who had just gotten two doses of Moderna.

For some reason, now that the FDA has come out with a guidance, a report, saying that if you have antibodies, that’s no proof of immunity. Why is the FDA, CDC, and NIH’s default position on those of us that have been previously infected, that chances are you probably don’t have immunity? Why would they say that? 

It’s just not true. For almost every other virus that we know, once you’ve had the disease, you’re immune from it. And certainly, if you have an active case of the disease, you sure don’t want to get the vaccine. And yet, we have this big push to vaccinate everybody, regardless of medical need or potential harm that might come of possibly vaccinating somebody who’s been previously infected or are currently having a case of COVID.

Mr. Jekielek: You have these two letters that you’re writing both to the State Department and to NIAID, but I’m actually curious about this, have you found out what evidence this assertion is that you just described? What evidence that’s based on?

Sen. Johnson: No, in fact, there’s a study just published out of Israel that shows that those of us that were previously infected have as good, if not better, immunity than the vaccine. 

And that would make a lot of sense. The vaccine is really designed based on these spike proteins to identify those. When you’ve had the disease, your immune system identifies the entire coronavirus, which is why people with SARS-1, 17 years later, appear to be immune to SARS-2, even though SARS-2 is only 80% genetically identical to SARS-1.

So, the common sense, just basic medicine, would indicate that if you’ve already been infected with the virus, your immune system is going to be pretty capable of warding off a re-infection.

Mr. Jekielek: So tell me about these requests that you’ve made to NIAID and to the State Department?

Sen. Johnson: We’re just trying to get a straight answer. As I listen to Dr. Fauci, talking about, for example, gain of function and how we didn’t fund any of that. He couches his response in very lawyerly terms. And so, I want a straight answer out of him. I don’t want him dodging between a lawyerly response. 

With our letter to the State Department, I just want to figure out why did they end their investigation into the origin of the coronavirus? Now, the Biden administration, under  public pressure, has started an investigation through the intelligence community. But again, is the intelligence community going to come clean? What are they going to provide the public? So, to me, this is just screaming for transparency, which we haven’t had in government for quite some time.

Mr. Jekielek: But you said earlier that you’re not expecting a lot of results, I guess?

Sen. Johnson: Well, again, my experience with my previous investigations as Chairman of Homeland Security committee, even under President Trump, who wanted this information out, we were just slow walked all the time. I’m quite confident we didn’t even get close to all the information we were looking for. So, if past is a predictive, I wouldn’t think under Biden administration, they’re going to exactly come clean either.

What I’m hoping my oversight letters will do is raise the questions that maybe inquisitive reporters will start raising as well. And then public pressure will either come to bear on the administration to come clean or whistle blowers will come forward that have the knowledge and inform the press.

Mr. Jekielek: So in questioning, I think, it was a Senator Kennedy was questioning Dr. Fauci. One of the things he said really kind of struck me and I’m going to quote it here. He said, “I don’t have enough insight into the Communist Party of China to know their interactions with the scientists, sir.” I believe that’s a direct quote. And I thought that was pretty fascinating, because I was wondering how reflective that might be of the level of knowledge of other officials in the U.S. government, in your estimation.

Sen. Johnson: Well, I view that as just a big dodge. A lawyer-baked dodge of the question. No matter what the answer, no matter what the truth, if Dr. Fauci isn’t aware of these things, he should be. And if he is aware of them and he’s lying, that’s also a problem.

The fact of the matter is, he’s been providing grants for this type of research for years. They go to conferences; they talk about it; it’s published. Again, it’s hidden in plain sight. He had to be aware of the fact that with some of these dollars, certainly there was cooperation with the Wuhan lab.

Dr. Shi [Zhengli], was cooperating with Ralph Baric, out of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills. I mean, this is all well-known, it’s been documented. That’s what I’m saying, it’s hidden in plain sight. For Dr. Fauci to claim, “I don’t know anything about this,” again, he’s either lying, or if he didn’t know about it, this guy is completely incompetent and should not be in the position he’s in.

Mr. Jekielek: Certainly for some years, U.S. officials have dealt with Chinese officials or Chinese scientists in, let’s say, a P4 lab, like the Wuhan lab, which of course had been affiliated with the Chinese military. With credulity, they would say, “Oh, no, we’re not working with the military,” and then we say, “Okay, fine. I accept that. Let’s keep doing our work.” But from our experiences and decades of reporting, that’s not a very reasonable position to have.

Sen. Johnson: No, it’s a completely unreasonable position to have. You have to realize when you’re dealing with any entity in China, it’s again, it’s the Communist Party of China. They control society, they control all businesses.

They certainly would control a level four laboratory involved in this type of research. So, there’s no way that you wouldn’t have to, first of all, be 100 percent certain that the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army are going to be knowing full well and fully cooperating with, if not completely directing, the activity of that lab.

Mr. Jekielek: Going forward, you mentioned that you’re publishing these letters, and you’re hoping that some inquisitive journalists take hold of some of the questions that you have and start doing their own research on them. What is your best case scenario, where would you like to see this go now?

Sen. Johnson: I just want to get to the truth. It’s about time we have it. We do need to understand what’s happened here, because if this really did spring from the Wuhan lab, and if it was developed with technology that we helped develop, that we bought and paid for, that we continue to engage in, even though there was a moratorium against this type of research, the American people need to know that, as well as we need to take action to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

There’s always been a debate on this type of research. It’s incredibly dangerous. Now, maybe there’s some justification for it, but if you do something this dangerous, you have to keep such incredibly tight controls over it. Part of the problem is that the level of safety and security in a lab, most scientists don’t like operating under those conditions. Totally gowned up, I’m sure everything takes double or triple the time to do, so there’s always going to be a tendency to go to a lower level of security.

If you’re going to engage in this type of dangerous research, you have to completely control it. Allowing it to be known and cooperating with the Communist Party of China, People’s Liberation Army, and the Wuhan lab there is completely unreasonable. It’s just jaw dropping that we would allow that to happen

Mr. Jekielek: What do you think about the fact that the Chinese regime has plans to build multiple more P4 labs now?

Sen. Johnson: Well, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? Again, I do not know what happened. I have all kinds of suspicions.  And I’ve had suspicion for quite some time. I haven’t voiced the suspicion, because you see what happens to anybody who stepped out of line and talked about this.

Literally, I—and I am sure a number of other people—had to sit back and just kind of bide our time until somebody in the mainstream press took the story and ran with it. Now that it’s happened, I think it’s going to open up the floodgates, and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of this soon.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, this is the other question. How does this speak to the credibility of the legacy media? Or will that actually change people’s perceptions? Because this does appear to be a really stark example of a very, very strong narrative in one direction and everybody backpedaling like crazy as we speak—except for the few of us that were right, at least about the fact that these are reasonable things to consider and debate.

Sen. Johnson: Isn’t that really a mutually exclusive term, a credible media? They have very little credibility, and that is so very sad. We need a free press; we need an inquisitive and investigating press; we need an unbiased press. We don’t have an unbiased press. We have a press that is in the tank for liberal, progressive, socialist Marxists.

I mean, they made it completely obvious, right after the 2016 election, they chose sides. They always were on a side, but they overtly chose a side, did everything they could to bring down President Trump and do everything they could to make sure that President Biden was elected. Well, they won, they succeeded and now they’re continuing it. And it’s just so incredibly dangerous for a free democratic republic, not to have that free and inquisitive investigatory press.

Mr. Jekielek: Senator, as we finish up, there does seem to be this self-reflection that’s happening at least to some extent right now. Can this be replicated in other areas?

Sen. Johnson: I hope so. And again, I certainly appreciate your news organization. The other conservative sites that are just telling the truth, I don’t even want to call them conservative sites. I mean, those news organizations that just report the news in an unbiased fashion, that’s what we need.

But you’re being censored. You’re being throttled back, as are these other news media outlets as well. We have to address the power of our media oligarchs.

It’s funny. The first time I went to Ukraine, everybody’s talking about one of the reforms that Ukraine needs is a free press. It’s controlled by oligarchs. I said, “Well, so is American media; we just call them billionaires. We don’t call them oligarchs. We call them media billionaires.” That’s what we’ve got going on here, and those media billionaires are liberal, progressive, Marxist socialists, and it’s showing.

Mr. Jekielek: Senator Johnson, any final thoughts before we finish up?

Sen. Johnson: No, I think I probably got in enough trouble on this interview. Again, I appreciate what you’re doing. America has to wake up. We have to understand what’s happened to this country.

I believe America is something precious. In the span of human history, the freedom that our forebears—we talked about Memorial Day. More than a million men and women that died defending our freedom. We can’t let it slip away, and I fear we are. I’m asking every American to wake up and jealously guard their freedom, so that they can use that freedom in a free market system to dream, aspire, build, and create. That’s what made this country great, not big government.

Mr. Jekielek: Senator Ron Johnson, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.

Sen. Johnson: Take care, stay well.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Anthony Fauci did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Sen. Johnson’s allegations in the interview.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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