By BRENDAN FARRINGTON Associated Press
Tallahassee, Fla. (AP) — Republican attorneys general in 14 states asked President Donald Trump on Wednesday to form a state-federal partnership to hold China accountable for damages caused by the spread of the new coronavirus.
The letter to the president says "the Chinese communist government" may have failed to provide information or provided misinformation about the virus that led to its spread.
"The spread of COVID-19 has grievously harmed each of our States. Many of our citizens have suffered and died from this virus. Our economies have been effectively shut down. Businesses, big and small, have been devastated to the point that many will not reopen," the letter said.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson are taking the lead on the coalition. The letter is also signed by attorneys general in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.
While the coalition is made up of Republicans, Moody said in a phone interview that she wants to add more attorneys generals, including Democrats, as part of an effort to make China pay in some way for the pandemic.
"I don't see this as a partisan issue. Holding a country accountable for misinformation or lack of action that could have mitigated the spread of this devastating virus is something of concern to all of us regardless of party," she said. "Seeking damages is of concern to all of us."
The letter is part of a growing call among state elected officials pointing blame at China for economic loss and deaths caused by the coronavirus, joining dozens of patients and businesses looking to sue China over the outbreak that has killed more than 83,000 people in the United States.
Trump is clearly not happy with China's role in the spread of the virus. While not a response to the attorneys general letter, he criticized the country on Twitter on Wednesday, saying the virus began spreading just after the U.S. and China reached a trade deal.
"The ink was barely dry, and the World was hit by the Plague from China. 100 Trade Deals wouldn't make up the difference - and all those innocent lives lost!," Trump tweeted.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis began calling for China to be held accountable in March, saying, "How Americans view them will never be the same. They've never been terribly popular as a country here, but I think that we have got to hold China accountable."
Since then, he has almost weekly criticized China and called for less U.S. reliance on the country for goods, particularly medical equipment.
Moody said the attorneys generals are examining state and federal laws to determine the best course of action against China and whether steps need to be modified to be more successful in their pursuit of accountability.
"What is the mechanism that we may utilize based on the facts that we have and based on the laws that exist or as they are modified ... that we could see success at true accountability from China?" Moody said.
The letter to Trump says state and federal governments need to look at legal, economic, diplomatic and security measures that could be taken against China.
"This will allow us to share information and resources and ensure that any remedy sought takes into consideration our legal capabilities and the devastating impact the virus has had on our States," it said.
China informed the World Health Organization of the outbreak on Dec. 31 of last year. It contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Jan. 3 and publicly identified the pathogen as a novel coronavirus on Jan. 8.
Chinese officials muffled doctors who warned about the virus early on and repeatedly downplayed the threat of the outbreak. However, many of the Chinese government's missteps appear to have been due to bureaucratic hurdles, tight controls on information and officials hesitant to report bad news.