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Congressional subcommittee threatens subpoena against HHS and FBI over ‘dangerous’ Fresno biolab

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic threatened a subpoena against the HHS and FBI over 'dangerous' Fresno biolab after allegedly failing to comply.

The chairman of the House subcommittee investigating COVID-19’s origins and its impact on Americans is threatening to subpoena the heads of the FBI and HHS to learn what each agency knows about an allegedly illicit biolab that was uncovered rural California late last year.

That unpermitted and unlicensed lab with ties to China was found with numerous potentially lethal infectious agents including malaria, dengue and tuberculosis. Lab operators claimed they were only making COVID-19 and pregnancy tests. The actual contents of Universal Meditech, Inc.’s warehouses in at least two Fresno County warehouses were unknown to local officials until May. They’ve expressed repeated concern over the consequences of an intentional or accidental leak.

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“If [the agencies fail] to comply with our legitimate oversight requests, we will be forced to evaluate the use of the compulsory process,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) wrote in his letters sent this afternoon. Last month, Wenstrup announced the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic was investigating the biolab and asked for assistance from FBI and HHS. Wenstrup’s letter says the agencies have not responded to his request.

“To properly carry out the [committee’s] missions, including assessing the government’s ability to keep America safe from biological threats and assessing legislative solutions regarding biosafety and biosecurity, we must have the full cooperation to federal agencies,” Wenstrup writes.

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Late last year, the FBI was brought into the case by officials in Fresno County who were unsure of the dangers presented by the lab or the people running the operation. “Working with the FBI and the state agencies, the information we had at this time is that there wasn’t any imminent threat.” Fresno County Assistant Director of Public Health Joe Prado recently told members of his county board. But Prado also said the FBI largely backed out of the investigation in February and now remains involved but only in a limited manner. 

“The FBI is providing consultation as needed and our department cannot comment on criminal investigations by the federal, state or local enforcement agencies,” Prado said.

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It was the CDC, which falls under HHS that determined the UMI lab had at least 20 different infectious agents in its poorly-conditioned warehouse. Last month, the FDA, also under HHS jurisdiction, notified the public of 15 different UMI tests that were recalled. “The FDA is not able to confirm the performance of UMI’s tests, raising concerns that the tests may not be safe and effective,” the August 11 bulletin notes.

Officials with FBI and HHS previously told FOX they would not confirm the existence or scope of any ongoing investigations into UMI.

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Wenstrup’s letters to FBI Director Chris Wray and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra give a deadline of September 14 for all documents and communications they have about the lab. The letter also notes the committee may request interviews with unnamed government employees for additional information.

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