Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, defended himself from accusations that he knew about the Reedley bio-lab and held on to the information for months.
In a report released Thursday, right-wing activist media producer James O’Keefe claimed that an undercover video of a Costa staffer said he “knew about the lab months before anyone else did.”
Costa’s opponent in the March 2024 primary, businessman Michael Maher, is making this a political issue.
“As a former (FBI) Special Agent, I know there is no excuse for delaying the response for months. As your representative, I will support our local elected officials who are pushing federal agencies to ensure that public health and safety are not sidelined,” Maher, R-Kingsburg, said in a Thursday news release issued by his congressional campaign.
Maher also said Costa needs to “be fully transparent” about what he knew and when.
In response to questions from GV Wire, Costa’s office issued this statement on Friday:
“Upon notification by the city of Reedley on March 22, 2023, Rep. Costa has done everything possible to work with local, state, and federal officials to protect public safety and get to the bottom of this illegal lab. Rep. Costa has been transparent about his work, which is clearly outlined in a bipartisan congressional report issued on Nov. 15, 2023. All of these events have been extensively covered and verified by local officials, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, and the media.”
In the 42-page report from the committee, Costa wrote he became aware of the lab in March.
“Within a day of having been alerted, my staff and I mobilized officials from Fresno County, the State of California, and Federal agencies to assist Reedley in the investigation and abatement of the unregulated laboratory that contained 1,000 transgenic mice and infectious diseases, among other concerning findings. I have stayed in contact with local and federal officials – including sharing information, encouraging crossagency collaboration, and working with the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party during its investigation,” he wrote.
The owner of the companies behind the lab — Chinese national Jia Bei Zhu, or David He as he is known in court — is accused of three federal counts — two for distribution of adulterated and misbranded medical devices, and one for making false statements.
Zhu remains in Fresno County Jail after being denied bond and is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 10.
O’Keefe and his network of reporters are known for secret recordings of subjects revealing controversial information about topics.
In this case, an O’Keefe affiliate recorded Costa staffer Daniel Sepulveda saying of the lab “I mean, I knew for a few months before anybody else did.”
GV Wire first reported Costa’s involvement in a July 31 story. For that story, multiple sources told GV Wire that Costa coordinated between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two other federal agencies investigating the laboratory.
Costa made his first public statements in August, in a letter to federal authorities co-written with then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
A GV Wire message sent to the O’Keefe Media Group seeking comment for this story was not returned.
Costa’s office did not answer a follow-up question of what Sepulveda meant when he said he knew three months before others.
More from Maher
Maher said his statement was more about the delay from the December 2022 discovery until Costa intervened in March 2023.
“I’m not trying to make this an issue about this staffer who was caught up in this undercover sting, just trying to go on a date and maybe sharing some information. As the entire message that I put out is, we have a serious and grave threat to California and our nation with what China is doing buying up farmland,” Maher said.
Maher said he is troubled about the lapse of time between the bio-lab discovery and the investigation picking up in March. According to the committee report and several media statements from Reedley and Fresno County authorities, it took that long to obtain the proper search warrants to enter the lab.
“It shouldn’t have been delayed. This should have been dealt with in December,” Maher said.
Others — such as Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld —have criticized local officials for holding back on letting the public know until after the fact.
O’Keefe Report Riddled With Errors, Based on a False Premise
The O’Keefe report made several questionable findings of fact.
For example, the undercover reporter asked Sepulveda why there hadn’t been more media coverage about the bio-lab.
The Mid Valley Times broke the story in June 2023, with several other local and national outlets — including GV Wire — reporting on it extensively ever since.
“Congress with the help of the mainstream media have quietly swept it under the rug,” O’Keefe said, taking credit for the story.
The premise of O’Keefe’s report was using a “citizen journalist” to meet Sepulveda through the dating app Tinder, then recording his responses to questions about the lab.
O’Keefe gave a brief explanation of how they could record Sepulveda without his knowledge. He said it was done in a “busy” restaurant, without offering more detail about how this didn’t violate California’s “two-party consent” law for recordings in a private area.
O’Keefe described Jesalyn Harper, the Reedley code enforcement officer who discovered the lab in December 2022, as a “meter maid.”
The report said that there were “very few Democrats” on the committee. The breakdown, according to the committee website, is 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
O’Keefe praised McCarthy, saying he was the only congressman who thought this was “a big deal.” The story included a clip from a Nov. 15 meeting — described by McCarthy’s office as a “press event” — where McCarthy said “the CDC and others hung up on him and ignored him until Congressman Jim Costa called.”
The committee report wrote “Ultimately, local officials contacted their local Member of Congress, Representative Jim Costa, asking him for help obtaining federal assistance. It was only then, following Congressman Costa’s advocacy on Reedley’s behalf, that the CDC responded to California state government and local official requests.”
The report also included a clip of Costa, saying he “bumbled under oath.” The event was a news conference and not a hearing where anyone took an oath.