State AGs Want in on Federal Coronavirus Probes

States want to coordinate with feds on China accountability efforts

Florida attorney general Ashley Moody / Getty Images
Florida attorney general Ashley Moody / Getty Images
May 15, 2020

Republican attorneys general are proposing a new federal-state partnership to determine "possible actions to take towards China," adding to a slew of state-level initiatives to hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic.

The top legal officers of 14 states urged the federal government to work with states to investigate China's handling of the pandemic and evaluate possible remedial measures that could be taken against the Chinese government. Florida attorney general Ashley Moody, who spearheaded the White House letter, said that a federal-state partnership is necessary to overcome legal obstacles that might be too much for a single state to handle.

"We understand there may be limitations [at the state level] as we're dealing with a foreign country," Moody told the Washington Free Beacon. "We want to make sure that we're working through the federal government, and that we are working in a way that maximizes efficiency and resources among federal agencies and individual states."

Moody's White House overture represents the latest attempt by states—led mostly by Republican officials—to hold China accountable for its botched handling of the pandemic. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt sued the Chinese government for damages in April. Mississippi has pledged to do the same, while 16 other attorneys general said they are also considering legal action. Moody and the other AGs said in a Wednesday letter to the Trump administration that bringing in states to aid with the federal investigation would help Americans deal with the fallout of the pandemic.

"A coordinated effort between the federal government and our States is the most effective and efficient means of exploring a viable response to achieve the accountability our citizens demand," Moody and the other attorneys general wrote in a Wednesday letter to President Trump.

If implemented, the federal-state partnership will investigate whether China exacerbated the pandemic by concealing or misrepresenting information about the coronavirus, according to the letter. After the conclusion of the investigation, the partnership will evaluate "any remedy" that can be used to hold China accountable for the destruction caused by the pandemic. The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the proposed partnership.

"As the administration evaluates the spectrum of possible actions to take towards China … a comprehensive evaluation of the legal, economic, diplomatic, and security measures that can be employed must be undertaken," the letter read. "And for maximum effectiveness States should be included in that process to the extent possible."

Republican attorneys general submitted a similar letter to Congress requesting hearings on China's coronavirus response. The letter, submitted to both congressional Democrats and Republicans, said China "appears to have intentionally misled the world over the last 6 months."

In a Thursday press call, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Tex.) praised state attorneys general for acting quickly to hold China accountable, adding that they are often ahead of federal action on legal issues.

"State attorneys general often are the point of the spear," he said. "State AGs can be quick and nimble and aggressive and we've seen them drive legal challenges—some good, some bad—but be aggressively out there at the front of the charge."

The federal government is debating several measures against the regime, including backing out of the phase-one trade deal. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that "100 Trade Deals wouldn’t make up" for the lives lost in the pandemic. The Trump administration has also ordered a federal pension fund to halt investments into Chinese stocks, affecting billions of federal retirement dollars.