The National Institutes of Health (NIH) deleted COVID-19 gene sequences that may have proven valuable to detecting earlier the probability the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated at the Wuhan lab, as was discovered in June 2021.
Now, U.S. district court judge Leonie Brinkema is ordering the NIH to turn over the missing data related to a probe by the group Empower Oversight. The NIH had earlier submitted a motion for summary judgment, which was denied.
“In Empower Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Eastern District of Virginia, Empower Oversight has filed its opposition to NIH’s motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the NIH sought to evade accountability for violations of its legal obligations to disclose documents under FOIA,” the group stated in July. “According to Empower Oversight’s filing, NIH improperly withheld information gathered in response to questions from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.). Last year, the Senators asked about the agency’s decision to delete coronavirus genetic sequence information from an NIH database at the request of Chinese researchers. NIH has already admitted in the lawsuit that it failed to meet deadlines required by FOIA in responding to Empower Oversight’s request.”
“The NIH has flouted deadlines and ignored its legal obligations to be transparent with Congress and the public,” said Jason Foster, Founder and President of Empower Oversight. “The agency gathered answers to the Senators’ specific factual question but did not transmit them, and then it blacked-out entire paragraphs rather than disclose the information pursuant to our FOIA request,.”
“Under FOIA, the deliberations of agency officials are exempt from the normal disclosure requirements, but facts are not exempt,” Empower Oversight notes and provided essentia background.
“Empower Oversight filed its initial FOIA request on July 14, 2021,” the group states. “Although NIH admitted receiving the request, it failed respond in any way for four months. Thus, Empower Oversight sued the agency in November 2021 to compel disclosure of the requested documents. Since then, Empower Oversight filed an amended complaint on March 1, 2022 challenging the improper redactions of information in answers drafted but never transmitted to the Senate. Empower Oversight also released a research paper describing what has been learned from the documents NIH was forced to reveal so far as a result of Empower Oversight’s lawsuit.”
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