Mar 25, 2020 - Health

Report: DOJ memo advises on "terrorism-related statutes" in coronavirus cases

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen speaks during a press conference
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen during a press conference at the Justice Department. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen advised law enforcement officials in a memorandum Tuesday they may use "terrorism-related statutes" in cases involving "the purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19," per Politico and the Washington Post.

"Because coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a 'biological agent,' under federal law such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes."
— Excerpt from Rosen's memo, per WashPost

The big picture: The novel coronavirus had killed 796 people and infected more than 55,000 others by early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. All levels of government are racing to try and contain the spread of the virus and impact on economies by introducing a range of measures, from social distancing to stay-at-home orders.

Between the lines: WashPost notes that Rosen's memo to Department of Justice leaders, U.S. Attorneys and law enforcement agency chiefs appears to be "theoretical" at this stage.

Of note: The Justice Department filed its first COVID-19 enforcement action on Sunday, against a website it says was offering a fraudulent coronavirus vaccine.

  • Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice's Civil Division said in a statement, "The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain." Axios has contacted the DOJ for comment on the memo.
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