GOP frustration bubbles over on federal COVID pandemic documents – USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are demanding federal documents from government officials that could shed light on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe in 2020 and killed millions.
At a hearing Tuesday, GOP senators aired their frustration that the National Institutes of Health has been slow to provide key documents related to the outbreak amid recent revelations that COVID-19 may have leaked from a lab
The COVID origin concerns stem from reporting that the Department of Energy found there is “low confidence” to believe the virus was unintentionally leaked from a lab in China. Senators pushed for the documents during the second nomination hearing for the Colleen Shogan, President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next archivist of the United States.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said he sent over a dozen letters to NIH officials requesting documents related to the origins of COVID-19 – and has not received any. 
“This is important because we are still struggling to get information from the NIH,” he said. “You wouldn’t think that a scientific organization is resisting document disclosure but they are.” 
Smart analysis delivered to your inbox: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter
More:With National Archives under fire, senators show little urgency to confirm Biden’s pick to lead agency
Republicans pressed Shogan, on how she would act in a nonpartisan way to hold NIH accountable and obtain documents related to COVID’s origins.
The hearing was Shogan’s second time appearing before the committee to be considered for archivist of the federal agency that preserves documents for the executive branch. Republicans previously said she was too partisan to serve in the position and did not vote to confirm her. 
The National Archives serve mainly as a depository for federal records. Shogan said it’s the agencies themselves which are responsible for classifying and declassifying records, though she promised Paul that if confirmed, she would work to speed up declassification of “older records.” 
“That would not be in the direct purview of the archivist of the United States,” she said. “But, nonetheless, at the National Archives, the principal value is that of transparency so I will be responsive to any requests that you may have while following the law.”  
More:U.S. agencies haven’t agreed on the origins of COVID-19 virus in wake of controversial report
More:Trump, Biden, Pence classified documents hang over Archives nominee Colleen Shogan’s hearing
Paul claimed NIH is not being cooperative in providing information and records related to the COVID outbreak to the Senate and looked to the archives administration as the unbiased agency that must protect documents. 
“We need somebody in a nonpartisan position to say: ‘We got to make sure they are not destroying records over there (NIH)’,” he said. 
Because so many documents are designated secret or heavily redacted, it makes oversight difficult, he said.
“The bigger problem though I think is that everything is classified,” Paul said. “We classify everything. The menu at the White House is supposedly classified so I mean we’ve got problems with too much classification.”
More:The real issue with the COVID-19 lab leak theory? The US isn’t spying on China like it used to
More:House Oversight subcommittee to investigate COVID-19 origins and Wuhan lab funding
Committee member Ron Johnson, R-Wis., questioned whether Shogan, as archivist, would act on document requests from lawmakers in the minority party (in this case Republicans).
Shogan said she will be responsive to any requests in compliance with existing law.   
“The National Archives holds the records of the United States in custody for the American people,” she said. “But the American people — it’s their records. And I look forward to sharing them with as many Americans as possible while following the law.”
More:Senate committee schedules hearing for Biden’s National Archivist nominee Colleen Shogan
The Energy Department found this week that there is a possibility the COVID-19 pandemic started after an unintentional lab leak in China, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
There have been various theories about how the virus spread – ranging from its jump from animals to humans to leakage from a lab where scientists studied coronaviruses. 
The Energy Department found with “low confidence” that the pandemic most likely began after researchers were studying coronaviruses at a scientific lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and possibly infected themselves. USA TODAY could not independently confirm the reports.