NIH Director Francis Collins, who is expected to soon retire, was subjected to a refreshing series of tough questions by a CNN journalist. Pamela Brown’s grilling of the NIH director over the “oversight failure” that led to its grant to EcoHealth Alliance being used for “risky research” is absolutely worth watching in full.

“You’re just now finding out U.S. tax dollars were being used to pay for this risky research in that Wuhan lab two years ago,” Brown said. “So the question is how can you know what this money is going toward? What kind of research this is going toward in places like the Wuhan lab if you’re just now finding this out from EcoHealth Alliance how the U.S.’ taxpayer dollars were being used?”

“EcoHealth did violate the terms of their grant award,” Collins conceded. The NIH director then claimed that the research into coronavirus gain-of-function conducted at Wuhan was the kind that requires “special high level oversight.” Dr. Collins also reiterated his claim that the specific grant-funded research was “in no way connected” to the emergence of Covid-19.

“But isn’t this also an oversight failure of the NIH?” Brown pressed. “Because, the NIH is responsible for taking taxpayer money and giving these grants. So would you say this is also an oversight failure?”

While Dr. Collins critiqued the current Congressional funding system, which prevents the NIH from directly contacting grant subaward contractors, and argued that the system should be changed.

“Why should Americans trust you and the NIH on the issue of Covid origins when you didn’t even know about the programs it was funding with taxpayer dollars in China?” Brown asked.

Washington Post columnist and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin reacted to the segment with an excellent thread that bears reading in full.

Everyone should watch this @PamelaBrownCNN interview with outgoing @NIHDirector Francis Collins to see how Collins uses misleading talking points to avoid any acknowledgement NIH was caught completely unaware its grantee was doing risky bat coronavirus research in Wuhan.

THREAD

Everyone should watch this @PamelaBrownCNN interview with outgoing @NIHDirector Francis Collins to see how Collins uses misleading talking points to avoid any acknowledgement NIH was caught completely unaware its grantee was doing risky bat coronavirus research in Wuhan.

THREAD https://t.co/NTv9J8vpjZ

— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) October 26, 2021

Brown repeatedly presses Collins to explain how NIH could not know FOR TWO YEARS that its own contractor @EcoHealthNYC had done research making bat coronaviruses more infectious to humans, and Collins uses every rhetoric trick to dissemble and distract… I’ll explain

Fauci claimed no “Gain of Function research was being funded in Wuhan.”

Brown to Collins: “How could [Fauci] say that when you are just now finding out that US taxpayer dollars were being used to pay for this risky research in that Wuhan lab two years ago?” GOOD QUESTION

Collins tries to go down a rabbit hole semantic debate about the definition of gain of function (this is his usual filibuster tactic), but Brown stops him and asks the direct question again:

Brown: “EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of its contract… So the question is.. How can you know what this money is going toward… in places the Wuhan lab if you are just now finding this out from EcoHealth Alliance, how the US taxpayer dollars were being used?” EXACTLY. Collins acknowledges EcoHealth violated its contract but then says, weirdly:

“Yes, they did some things they should have told us about, but they did not do the kind of Gain of Function research that requires special, high level oversight.” WTAF? The whole point of the NIH letter to Congress was that if EcoHealth HAD reported its research results, it WOULD HAVE triggered the extra, high level oversight. Why is Collins pretending he knows they would have been exempt from that?

There’s more (republicans-energycommerce.house.gov/news/energy-co…)

Then Collins constructs and attacks a straw man by saying: “This was in no way connected with the advent of SARS-CoV-2.”

Brown points out he’s refuting an assertion nobody made. She steers the interview back to the issue at hand, why didn’t NIH know what they were funding? Brown: “There was risky research being conducted in that lab with US taxpayer dollars that NIH was unaware of and is just now finding out. So it raises the question of what other risky experiments could be going on with US taxpayer funding that you don’t know about.” PRECISELY

Collins responds he doesn’t think this kind of lax reporting is widespread. “This particular grantee is in trouble for not being completely transparent about the work they were doing and we are very much following up on that.” No specifics. Brown presses Collins (again) to acknowledge NIH has some responsibility for not knowing it was funding this research: “Isn’t this also an oversight failure of the NIH, because the NIH is responsible for taking taxpayer money and giving these grants.” OF COURSE IT IS

This time, Collins actually blames Congress for preventing NIH from interacting with sub=grantees (the Wuhan lab), completely sidestepping why NIH didn’t ask EcoHealth (the primary grantee) for its Wuhan report FOR TWO YEARS, while a pandemic raged coming from Wuhan

Brown presses Collins to on the core issue:“Why should Americans trust you and the NIH on the issue of covid origins, when you didn’t even know about the programs it was funding with taxpayer dollars in China?” LOGICAL QUESTION

First, Collins basically makes the argument that most of the planes landed safely so nothing to see here:

“Well, that’s a little too strong, Pam… The vast majority of what they did was what we gave them permission to do.”

Then Collins makes what seems to me to be a sexist comment to Brown: “So please, relax here.” (seems sexist)

“This is not a circumstance where I think you could say there was a major failure that could put human lives at risk.” (A bold if not misleading assertion)

Brown stands her ground, defends her legitimate and sensible questions:

“It certainly raises questions about transparency and oversight by the NIH of where this grant money goes… Will the NIH now pull funding from EcoHealth Alliance?”

Collins misleads again, saying the EcoHealth funding in Wuhan was cut off (true) but neglecting to mention that NIH and NIAID have awarded EcoHealth Alliance millions more in other contracts since then for other stuff. Some accountability

This Collins statement struck me as the most audacious:

“The last thing that needs to happen now is any sense that we are not revealing everything that we know.”

NIH is currently ignoring several Congressional requests for information and record about its work in China. Brown ends with a simple and true statement:

“This is US taxpayer dollars going to risky research and I believe every American deserves to know about it.”

Amen.

This is the kind of persistent but respectful journalism that America needs right now if it is going to restore transparency and accountability in government. If CNN could do this kind of journalism for every segment, then it would go a long way to restoring trust – and viewership – for the network.

OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.