Did the COVID-19 virus break out a laboratory in Wuhan, or did it cross over to humans in the city’s local wet markets? Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says … maybe. The experts at the Pentagon have been left to guess about it due to China’s incessant lying and cover-up in the pandemic, but thus far the “majority of views” leans toward the wet-market theory.

But, Esper notes, there’s nothing yet to contradict the theory that it broke out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology either. The full, longish interview is below, but the origin issues come up right away:

That leaves us pretty much where we left off yesterday. The major development in the last 24 hours has been to put the WIV-origin theory from fringe speculation to a leading mainstream theory about the origins of the virus. Until we get a lot more information from China about the specifics of the outbreak, we’ll never have a certain answer for this question. What we do know now, however, is that specific virology center had been a major concern for the State Department and epidemiologists for several years, and that an urgent warning in January 2018 all but predicted the specific circumstances of this pandemic.

The real question is whether the Pentagon leans toward the natural-transmission hypothesis because it makes the most sense, or whether it’s because it’s the most politic in dealing with China at the moment. There’s some leverage in this ambiguity, after all, that a flat-out public accusation would dissipate. The State Department appears to be making this point through leaks: If you don’t start cooperating, we’ll blow the lid off what you’ve done. Esper has good reason to play his cards close to the vest and let Donald Trump decide when to show them.

China’s cover-up matters not just for the origin story but because it has delayed potential medical responses to the virus as well, Esper argued. We could have been farther along to a vaccine had China shared its data in December, plus we could obviously have done a lot more to contain the spread:

“They have been misleading us — they’ve been opaque, if you will, from the early days of this virus,” he said in a live interview from the Pentagon.

“I don’t have much faith that they’re even being truthful with us now.”

He confirmed that US intelligence has taken seriously the possibility that the pandemic did not start from animals being sold in a wet market, and that Chinese authorities could be protecting its scientists.

“This is something we’ve been watching closely now for some time,” Esper confirmed, calling the results “inconclusive.”

“We do know one thing: if the Chinese government had been more transparent earlier it would have helped us in terms of staying ahead of this virus, being able to understand its DNA, help develop therapeutics and vaccines much quicker,” he said.

Surely Esper won’t be holding his breath waiting for Beijing to start acting honestly and responsibly. And hopefully he won’t be holding his tongue about it, either.

In other news, Esper tells Today‘s Savannah Guthrie that the DoD review of the firing of the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt could end up getting reversed after all. Esper says he’s keeping all options open in regard to Captain Brett Crozier. What an embarrassment this turned out to be.