May 5 (UPI) -- Rep. John Ratcliffe on Tuesday said his primary focus if confirmed as director of national intelligence would be on China and the origins of the novel coronavirus that has so far killed more than 250,000 globally.
The Texas Republican made the comments during his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee.
"If confirmed the intelligence committee will be laser focused on getting all of the answers that we can regarding how this happened, when this happened, and I commit to providing with as much transparency to you as the law will allow and with due regard for sources and methods," Ratcliffe told the panel.
"All roads lead to China," he said, referencing cybersecurity threats and COVID-19's origins in Wuhan.
The U.S. intelligence community issued a rare statement last week saying that although it can confirm COVID-19 originated in China, it was not manmade or genetically modified. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though, have made suggestions otherwise.
Ratcliffe told the intelligence committee that he hasn't seen evidence that the virus was created in a lab, but that it had "been a while" since he'd seen a classified coronavirus briefing.
The congressman also sought to reassure the panel he wouldn't let politics affect his job as the country's chief intelligence officer. Senators expressed skepticism over his ability to be impartial after being seen as a strong ally of Trump.
"Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I will provide if confirmed will not be altered or impacted by outside influence," he said in his opening statement.
Trump twice nominated the Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence, first last July after Dan Coats chose to step down from the position. He stepped aside less than a week later citing media scrutiny, which targeted his experience. Critics accused the congressman of padding his resume. His second nomination came in February.
Ratcliffe, 53, has served as the U.S. representative for Texas' 4th District since 2015 and serves on the House Committee on Intelligence. He previously worked as a U.S. attorney and federal terrorism prosecutor and as mayor of the city of Heath, Texas.
The position of director of national intelligence was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as a means of fostering inter-agency dialogue and cooperation among the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence-gathering network.