Sen. Johnson to HHS Sec. Becerra and Inspector General Grimm: NIAID Official’s Actions May Have Directly Obstructed My Oversight Efforts

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sent letters to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra and HHS Inspector General Christi Grimm revealing a recently obtained email apparently showing a concerted effort led by Dr. David Morens, a senior scientific advisor at the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), to circumvent federal record keeping laws and avoid producing responsive documents to congressional requests including the senator’s own request from June 2021.

In the letters, the senator included the text of Dr. Morens’ June 17, 2021 email that he sent from his Gmail account to ten individuals he referred to as his American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (ASTMH) “colleagues.” In that email with the subject line, “CONFIDENTIAL WITHIN OUR SMALL GROUP, PLEASE,” Dr. Morens attached a June 11, 2021 letter Sen. Johnson and four other senators sent to Sec. Becerra and then-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins requesting documents related to the origins of COVID-19. 

 Dr. Morens, who at the time reported to Dr. Anthony Fauci, summarized the requests relating to COVID-19 origins, and then informed his colleagues he has retained “very few” records on “these matters” and reiterated his preference that “correspondence on sensitive issues be sent to [him] at [his] gmail [sic] address[.]”  Dr. Morens’ complete email is copied below: 

Sen. Johnson wrote, “it appears that Dr. Morens may have intentionally deleted or destroyed records relating to the origins of COVID-19 given his admission that he has ‘retained very few emails or documents on these matters.’   Further, Dr. Morens’ stated preference to receive correspondence on ‘sensitive issues’ through Gmail shows an apparent evasion of federal record keeping requirements and a complete disregard for transparency.”

The senator added, “Dr. Morens’ apparent actions may have directly obstructed my oversight efforts. . . . [I]n light of the information I recently obtained regarding Dr. Morens’ efforts to hinder HHS’s response to my June 11, 2021 letter, I am deeply concerned that HHS officials may have intentionally removed or destroyed responsive records on the origins of COVID-19 or on other aspects of the pandemic.”

Sen. Johnson requested Dr. Morens appear before his Subcommittee staff for an interview and also called on Sec. Becerra to immediately provide complete responses to his June 11, 2021 letter and the March 31, 2023 follow-up letter by December 6, 2023.

Additionally, Sen. Johnson reiterated his August 14, 2023 request to HHS Inspector General Grimm to investigate Dr. Morens’ apparent violations of federal record keeping requirements and potential obstruction of congressional requests.

Read more about the senator’s November 15, 2023 letters to Sec. Becerra and Inspector General Grimm in the New York Post.

The full letter to HHS can be found here and the letter to the Office of the Inspector General can be found here