FULL EPISODE: 5/30/21 Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan on COVID’s origin, cyberwarfare and Afghanistan

Published: May. 29, 2021 at 6:18 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), both military veterans, for Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren,” airing Sunday, May 30, 2021.

Sen. Ernst discussed her successful amendment to the Endless Frontier Act banning U.S. taxpayer funding to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. Ernst told Van Susteren that we don’t know how U.S. funds were used, or whether coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan laboratory, because “the Chinese have destroyed a number of records associated with that lab.”

On how cyber war is defined and what America’s capabilities are, Ernst said: “We can’t define it right now. And that’s been one of the challenges, is what can we consider an act of war when it’s done through cyber avenues or cyber channels?”

Rep. Houlahan said she does not believe the U.S. is ready for a cyber warfare battle and “that we need to very much be concerned about that.”

On the letter she co-signed to President Biden regarding U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the need for an ongoing strategy in the region, Houlahan said that we “need to make sure we’re providing the oversight and the advice that we can be.”

Interview highlights are below.

Sen. Joni Ernst Highlights

On Wuhan lab funding and her amendment

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

What we have discovered is that American taxpayer dollars actually did go to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to fund some of the research being done there. And this was done through the NIH, a grant program through them to a nonprofit organization. So there’s this trail of American taxpayer dollars going into China supporting the efforts at the lab.

Greta Van Susteren

Do you know what they were doing with it at the lab, because there’s a very controversial gain of function where they basically make the virus more dangerous, more contagious, more deadly? Do we know what the U.S. taxpayer dollars were being used for?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

We don’t at this point. I’m sure we could somehow find exactly what they were using those dollars on. However, the communist China regime, of course, and [the] lab has destroyed a number of records. So if there was any tie-in to our American taxpayer dollars and the coronavirus, if it happened to come from that lab, we don’t really know that. And that’s why I am pushing, many others are, an independent investigation of how coronavirus became a pandemic, if it came from the lab, those are all things that we want to know as American taxpayers.

Greta Van Susteren

You’ve been talking about this for more than a year. This is not new for you, even though the amendment just passed. Why did it take so long to get traction? And why is it just getting news now? Why did the American people have sort of broader information about this a year ago?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

Well, I think this was a testy subject when it came up a year ago. I know that Senator Tom Cotton had a lot of concerns about this as well. There were a number of us that were questioning, where did the pandemic come from? What was the potential tie-in to Wuhan? And of course, we saw members get beat up in the press about this. Why so? I don’t know. I think most Americans want to know, how did this pandemic start? Where did it come from?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

All of that we are trying to uncover, but again, the Chinese have not been cooperative with any of these efforts, not just the United States, but other countries as well.

Greta Van Susteren

Are we going to get this information?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

I don’t know that we will get this information, Greta. And this is very concerning. The Chinese have destroyed a number of records associated with that lab. And they’ve also blocked our access to databases. If they are running other types of experiments on coronaviruses, if they are deadly to human beings, we would want to know that, but they won’t allow us access to find out, which is why the WHO, with an independent investigative agency, needs to look into this.

On whether we are in a cyber war

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

Well, really, we can’t define it right now. And that’s been one of the challenges is what can we consider an act of war when it’s done through cyber avenues or cyber channels? That’s one thing we wrangle with, especially on the Armed Services Committee is what constitutes an act of war? And how can we respond back if it is directed at civilian infrastructure and maybe not a governmental entity, how can we respond back? If we can find that it is a foreign terrorist group or a foreign entity that’s doing this, how do we handle it if it’s domestic?

Greta Van Susteren

What’s your thought on that? Let’s assume that the Colonial hacking was done by a domestic terrorist organization, not states monitored, that’s in Russia, but had an impact on the American people even though it was a private company, is that an act of war?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

I think it would be considered something that we would take up sanctions on. And I think that is something that we need to have further discussions about. The people that were involved with that, if we can pinpoint that, and if there was a Russian involvement or backing to that domestic, to Russia organization. So I think there’s a number of solutions that need to be thought of certainly before the American public will think of warfare as kinetic action. And I don’t think this is something that we could do kinetic action against, but certainly, there are other types of operations that we could engage in.

On the military sexual assault bill

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

It is focused on sexual assault and other serious crimes. So, it means men and women. It is really important that we are focusing on these serious crimes. What we have done is allow commanders to remain in charge of those misdemeanor crimes within their chain of command. This was a big concern that I’ve had over a number of years is that we need to make sure that commanders stay involved with discipline and order within their units. But what Senator Gillibrand and I have done through this piece of legislation is remove the commander when it comes to those serious crimes like sexual assault, remove them from that decision-making process. It would go to a special prosecutor that’s trained in those areas. But what it does require is that if there is a case that’s going to that special prosecutor, that commander is still informed of what’s going on that way they can make adjustments to the command climate.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

One thing that I want to stress, because I think this is really important and something that Senator Gillibrand agreed with: We have not focused nearly enough on prevention. Out of 249 efforts over the last 10 years of working on sexual assault in the military, very few of those, probably less than 10% of those have been focused on prevention efforts.

On her military background

Greta Van Susteren

What possessed you to go into the military?

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

I have been all about service Greta, and certainly, during my college experience, I had the opportunity to go on an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union. And I saw during that time, what a very powerful country, the opportunities that we had afforded to us in the United States was not being afforded to those folks in that communist country. And so to return to the United States after that exchange and just be able to reaffirm my commitment to the United States and provide a level of service and ensuring our values, our freedoms are maintained. That was important to me. And the way that I found to do that was by joining the service.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan Highlights

On cyber warfare

Greta Van Susteren

We saw a couple of weeks ago that one of our pipelines, not a government pipeline, but a company pipeline got shut down because of hacking. Do you feel safe that the United States is ready for a cyber warfare battle?

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

No, and I think that I am not alone in my concern for that. In fact, one of the reasons why I ran for Congress is that I’m an engineer by background. I have a really deep and abiding interest in cybersecurity, AI, biosecurity, frankly joined the Foreign Affairs, Asia Subcommittee, and Africa Subcommittee as a freshman, because I was worried, of all things, about a pandemic, as well as cyber threats. I think that this last couple of years, my freshman year, and now my first year of my sophomore year, if anything, has proven that my paranoia is not misplaced, that we need to very much be concerned about that.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

In fact, I was fortunate enough to join a special committee on the Armed Services about the future of events and effectively, what are the future threats? I think the future threats are here now, and they are, as we’ve seen, things like bio issues, but also, as you’ve mentioned, attacks on our infrastructure of one form or another, attacks on our personal information of one form or another. These are all deep vulnerabilities of the American people that when we think about our budgets, we need to be thinking about those threats as well.

On Afghanistan troop withdrawal

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

I think I’m not alone. I know [I am] bi-partisanly joined by a number of people who are also worried about how we withdraw from Afghanistan. Our President has made that decision, that is his decision to make. And we, as a Congress, need to make sure we’re providing the oversight and the advice that we can be, to make sure that that withdrawal is done safely for our troops and safely for our allies, and that also we leave behind a secure, to the degree that we can, Afghanistan government, and that the people of Afghanistan that we worked so hard to work with over the years are also taken care of. I’m particularly concerned, as I know many of my colleagues are as well, about women and children and the gains that we’ve made in terms of women’s place in the Afghanistan society, as well as children and particularly girls and their ability to access education. So those are the things that we will be keeping an eye on in the various committees in Congress.

Greta Van Susteren

How do we do that? I mean, we know historically the Taliban has been, at least in Western eyes, very unkind to women. Once we’re out of there, how do we ensure that those goals, those things that we hope to achieve are kept? We won’t have any troops there.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

Sure. I don’t think that this at all is going to be an easy process. I serve on the Armed Services Committee, as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee. Over the last several weeks, I’ve gotten a number of briefings about how we plan to do that, whether it’s through making sure that we continue to have the intelligence that we need in those communities, or making sure that we continue to support the NGOs that exist in those communities and understand whether they are still being able to be effective.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

Whether or not the Afghani people are safe and secure, or frankly, any other people in the globe are safe and secure is something that we should be realizing is directly impacting our national security. In fact, related to COVID, that’s one of the reasons on the Foreign Affairs Committee that I’m advocating to make sure we’re incredibly generous with our distribution of vaccine and vaccine technologies, because until COVID has gone, in all of its variants and forms, we will not be safe and secure as a nation. So there’s a lot of dimensions to what national security means and what taking care of people means.

On her family history in the military

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

I am very fortunate to be a third-generation veteran. My grandfather and my father served whole careers in the Navy. In fact, my mom and dad met because my dad was in my grandfather’s P3 squadron. So I was fortunate enough that my mom and dad got married. They’d been married more than 53 years or so. I served in the Air Force as an engineer, my brother in the army as a medic. I have many active duty cousins right now, largely in the Navy, who do everything from submarining to Navy nursing. It’s a proud service heritage in my family. I’m grateful to be able to bring that background and experience to Congress. Unfortunately, only about 20% of us are veterans in the Congress and in the history of all Congress, only fewer than 10 members have been women who have worn the uniform, out of more than 11,000. So it’s a rare person that is a woman and a veteran in Congress right now.

Greta Van Susteren

What’s the best way America can honor our veterans and our active military this weekend do you think? What do you recommend?

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)

I think that’s a really nice question. Obviously, it’s very nice to be thanked and it’s also very nice to be remembered and to remember those who have served before us. But I think one way that we could all do better, is to recognize the importance of service in general and that everyone of us can be of service. We don’t necessarily have to put on a uniform to do that. As I mentioned, I was a Teach for America participant, there are many AmeriCorps programs and other things that you can just do within your own to volunteer and to serve one another. I hope that that’s probably the best way we can all honor one another, is to recognize our similarities, rather than our differences and come together as a nation.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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