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Those who intentionally spread coronavirus could be charged as terrorists

POLITICO logo POLITICO 3/25/2020 By Josh Gerstein
a sign on the side of a building: The Justice Department. © Samuel Corum/Getty Images The Justice Department.

People who intentionally spread the coronavirus could face criminal charges under federal terrorism laws, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official said Tuesday.

In a memo to top Justice Department leaders, law enforcement agency chiefs and U.S. Attorneys across the country, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said prosecutors and investigators could come across cases of “purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19.”

“Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’… such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” Rosen wrote. “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.”

Rosen did not say whether any such threats or intentional exposures had been reported or whether his warning was simply precautionary.

The Justice Department has also set up a task force to address hoarding and price gouging related to supplies urgently needed for the fight against the virus.

Attorney General Bill Barr said during a briefing at the White House on Monday that hoarding of supplies like masks would be prosecuted. However, memos issued by Barr and Rosen on Tuesday said the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to formally designate the health-related items the administration covered by the Defense Production Act.

The task force pursuing such issues will be headed by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito, and it will include someone from each U.S. Attorney’s Office and other Justice Department units, Barr said.

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