WOLF BLITZER (ANCHOR): New information coming in into a conspiracy theory about the origins of the coronavirus that’s been eagerly promoted by allies of President Trump. Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is joining us right now. Drew, you found what -- a direct link to former President Trump strategist Steve Bannon, is that what I’m hearing?
DREW GRIFFIN: That's exactly right. A disinformation campaign you might call it, all linked to a Chinese scientist in hiding who’s just everywhere on conservative media, Wolf.
It is a right-wing-fueled conspiracy theory pushed to millions of Americans. Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a Chinese scientist in hiding, but appearing everywhere on right-wing media and claiming her two research papers prove the virus that causes COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab and is a Chinese bioweapon.
LI-MENG YAN: It is a modern bioweapon in an unrestricted way.
GRIFFIN: But a CNN investigation has found shoddy citations, questionable sourcing, and so many scientists who say it's bunk. Yan’s paper is not a credible scientific work. But it is directly linked to one of Donald Trump's former top strategists, Steve Bannon.
STEVE BANNON: Do you believe that a superspreader or someone who was actually sent and somehow has been focused on the White House and focused on President Trump?
MILES GUO: One-hundred percent!
GRIFFIN: That “100%” comes from Chinese billionaire in exile Miles Guo, who’s using his money and Bannon’s media expertise to try to discredit the Chinese government. Bannon and Guo appeared together on Bannon’s podcast, fill the pages of a website called “G-News” and began two nonprofits together: The Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation. These are the groups who say they support Dr. Li-Meng Yan and appear on the top of her research reports. Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen says the papers are scientific junk.
ANGELA RASMUSSEN: Anybody with an actual background in virology or molecular biology who reads this paper will realize that much of it is actually nonsense.
GRIFFIN: CNN spoke to a half dozen scientists who say Yan’s papers are filled with half-truths, not scientifically tenable, one who even met with Yan and said her first study wasn't plausible. University of Michigan professor Anna Mapp says the paper lacked a basic obligation to scientific practices.
ANNA MAPP: I was also really disturbed to see such a shoddy piece of work.
GRIFFIN: And CNN could find no trace of Yan’s three coauthors in the U.S. or China. Yan didn't respond to tell us why. But a source tells us that those three co-authors are pseudonyms for U.S.-based Chinese scientists who fear using their own names, but the source offered no proof. Miles Guo told us, “Yan’s work is Yan’s work, independent of any editorial control by me.” Steve Bannon offered no response. Yet there is more about Yan's work. Some of the sources of her research appear not to be credible. Amanda Peiffer, who is getting a Ph.D. in chemical biology, first alerted CNN to issues with the citations at the very end of Yan's paper.
AMANDA PEIFFER: People who aren't experts, people who aren't scientists, people who really haven't done anything. These are not coming from credible sources. I think that’s really concerning.
GRIFFIN: A CNN analysis finds Yan’s citations include a paper that appeared only as a post on a LinkedIn, a report written by a person that CNN cannot locate running a company that does not seem to exist. Three of the citations that link to posts on a website opposed to genetically modified food. Then there is citation 23, which links to anonymous blog posts published back in March. Parts of Yan's papers appear to be pulled directly from these anonymous blogs.
GRIFFIN: I don’t want to say copied and pasted, but it almost has that same effect.
PEIFFER: They took things the exact same figures, the exact same phrasing, and the exact same captions and put those into the report that was Yan's paper. And that -- that does not happen in science.
GRIFFIN: And guess where one of those blogs first appeared months before Yan's paper? G-News, the disinformation news site linked to Steve Bannon and Miles Guo.
RASMUSSEN: And as much as I hate to think of the idea of competent scientists using their work for political propaganda, to me that’s what this seems to be.
GRIFFIN: There’s just no information, Wolf, this is anything more than just made-up disinformation. What’s frightening is millions of Americans may be being fed this disinformation and actually believing it. Wolf.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Excellent reporting, Drew. Thank you so much for that report.