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Health Officials Tried to Evade Public Records Laws, Lawmakers Say

House Republicans on Tuesday accused officials at the National Institutes of Health of orchestrating “a conspiracy at the highest levels” of the agency to hide public records related to the origins of the Covid pandemic. And the lawmakers promised to expand an investigation that has turned up emails in which senior health officials talked openly about trying to evade federal records laws.

The latest accusations — coming days before a House panel publicly questions Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a former top N.I.H. official — represent one front of an intensifying push by lawmakers to link American research groups and the country’s premier medical research agency with the beginnings of the Covid pandemic.

That push has so far yielded no evidence that American scientists or health officials had anything to do with the coronavirus outbreak. But the House panel, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, has released a series of private emails that suggest at least some N.I.H. officials deleted messages and tried to skirt public records laws in the face of scrutiny over the pandemic.

Even those N.I.H. officials whose job it was to produce records under the Freedom of Information Act may have helped their colleagues avoid their obligations under that law, several emails suggest. The law, known as FOIA, gives people the right to obtain copies of federal records.

“I learned from our foia lady here how to make emails disappear after i am foia’d but before the search starts, so i think we are all safe,” Dr. David Morens, a former senior adviser to Dr. Fauci, wrote in February 2021. That email chain included Dr. Gerald Keusch, a scientist and former N.I.H. official, and Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a virus-hunting nonprofit group whose work with Chinese scientists has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers.

“Plus i deleted most of those earlier emails after sending them to gmail,” Dr. Morens added, referring to his personal Gmail account.

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