China Must Be Held Accountable for COVID-19 Pandemic, Arkansas Attorney General Says

Eighteen state attorneys general have signed onto a letter requesting that Congress investigate China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic. One of the signatories of the letter, Leslie Rutledge, the attorney general of Arkansas, joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss why and how China should be held accountable. She also discusses the Supreme Court’s decision last week on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and more.

We also cover these stories:

  • Controversy continues over widespread distribution of mail-in ballots for the November election. 
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  • The creator of The New York Times’ controversial “1619 Project” tweeted “It would be an honor” for the recent violent riots and destruction of historic statues to be termed the “1619 riots.” 

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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Attorney General Rutledge, it’s great to have you on The Daily Signal Podcast.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge: Thanks so much for having me on The Daily Signal Podcast. What a pleasure.

Del Guidice: Well, it’s great to have you with us. So, you recently signed onto a letter with 17 other Republican attorneys general asking Congress to hold an investigation into China on the coronavirus. Can you tell us a little bit about this letter?

Rutledge: Sure, absolutely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life, with over 2.1 million deaths worldwide, 118,000 American deaths.

With [the] Arkansas unemployment rate now at 9.5%, our economy has been decimated. Arkansas is actually, though, fairing better than the national average. The national average is 13.5%.

The reason why we sent this letter, the coalition of AGs did, is to ask Congress to investigate China and China’s role in hoarding that personal protective equipment.

It’s time for Congress to act by investigating China’s failed actions when they were aided by the World Health Organization, which essentially led us into this pandemic.

Del Guidice: In the letter you write that layers of deceit began last year with the censoring of Chinese health officials and the muzzling of Taiwanese complaints. What are some of the complaints that you would like to highlight, or just some of the grievances in the letter that you want to bring out for people to know?

Rutledge: Again, this letter is to make certain that Congress acts on it and holds China accountable.

Specifically, late last year China censored their health officials from alerting the world about this new and contagious disease and its ability for human-human transition. Instead, using Chinese media, they blamed the West xenophobia and cast doubt on the origin of the virus.

And this horrible disease could have and should have been stopped in Wuhan, China, rather than spreading across the world and causing such devastation, both in terms of lives lost, economies lost, and potentially crippling some economies across the world.

Del Guidice: In the letter, as you mentioned just now, you were talking about holding China accountable. How do you think China should be held accountable? Are there practical ways you and the other AGs see as this is how justice can be served?

Rutledge: Well, my good friend Sen. Tom Cotton from Arkansas proposed legislation last month in May that would hold China accountable by allowing Americans to sue China in federal court to recover damages for death, injury, and financial harm as a result of the coronavirus.

Two states, the states of Missouri and Mississippi, have already filed a suit against the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party. However, at this time, Arkansas is not making moves to take that action, but I think it is important to give Americans as a whole the opportunity to hold China accountable for this.

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Del Guidice: How would you rate Congress’ response to the letter?

Rutledge: Well, we know that Congress has a lot on their plate. However, we want to encourage them to take it seriously that when you have chief legal officers from this many states asking Congress to take action, Congress must take action.

When we are seeing day in, day out of this pandemic, as each state is addressing, again, lives loss, health impacted, the economies that are being touched by this, we must hold China accountable for their deceit.

And one of the, I think, facts that we look at and why we believe that there is deceit is their hoarding of the PPE in the first two months of 2020. So it’s January and February, for those of you all who aren’t looking at the same calendar I do.

So January and February of this year, American companies sold China exponentially more PPE. They sold, again, to China in January and February $58.3 million worth of PPE to China. This isn’t us buying masks here. This is American companies exporting this to China.

China knew it had a problem that was getting out of control and it failed to warn the rest of the world and instead of something that could have been kept there in Wuhan, China, it was released out into the world. So many lives lost, so many families impacted, companies impacted, futures impacted.

Del Guidice: Switching gears here a little bit, last week the Supreme Court decided that it won’t make “Dreamers” be deported—kids who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Backing up from that, in 2017 you had joined a lawsuit asking the Obama administration to halt the program.

So given your involvement with DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], what is your perspective on what happened with the Supreme Court in DACA and then what should happen following their decision?

Rutledge: Sure. So as you correctly stated, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, violates what’s called the Administrative Procedures Act.

However, the court had a limited review to the contemporaneous explanation given by then-Secretary [Elaine] Duke, which rested on the fact that [the] Department of Homeland Security believed DACA violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

It largely rested on the fact that, or rather on the 5th [U.S. Circuit Court’s] reasoning, in concluding that the DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents] program was illegal. And that was for parents, that was the adults.

So what I think that we have to look at now is, as a country, as officials, we want these childhood arrivals who have come to the United States—perhaps with parents or adults—quite honestly, we want them to become citizens, and we want them to be engaged and productive members of our community.

I think, as we move forward with this decision in the background now, that we as states and state leaders must recognize that this is what the court has determined and that we need to encourage these individuals and their family members to come out of the shadows and to become Arkansas citizens, to become American citizens, because we want people to be good, upstanding members of society.

America is the greatest melting pot. It’s the greatest land of freedom and salvation that the world has ever known. And so we want people to come here, but we really want them to come in the light of day and follow the proper protocols and rules in place and not come in the dead of night.

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So to those impacted by the DACA decision, I want them to know here in Arkansas and across the U.S. that we want you to become U.S. citizens and we want to have incredible, amazing, hardworking people right here in the United States.

Del Guidice: Well, you came into office of serving as an attorney general toward the end of the Obama administration. And during [former President Barack] Obama’s eight years, a Republican attorney general sued him 46 times. And I know that Democrat attorneys general have sued [President Donald] Trump at least 35 times.

So I’m curious, given that you came in toward the end of the Obama administration, what is your perspective on how attorneys general are working together and the climate of the AGs during Trump versus Obama?

Rutledge: I think the largest difference in President Obama’s administration versus President Trump’s administration is the openness.

President Obama ran a very tight ship. Attorneys General, Democrat or Republican, were not invited to the table at all.

When President Trump took office, within the first two months—so this was in February of 2017—of him taking office, the attorneys general from across the country, again Republican and Democrat, were all invited to the White House to have a meeting with the president, and those sort of meetings have continued.

I’ve had numerous opportunities to visit with the president, the vice president, and sit on panel discussions with him and those roundtable meetings that the president holds. It is a much different approach.

This president, President Trump, listens, whereas President Obama and his administration was a very heavy-handed, secret, “We’re not going to include states and local officials on issues. We know better for you than you know for you.” And this is a much different approach that I have dealt with in the Trump administration.

Del Guidice: Looking more at news of the day, we’ve all seen the rioting and unrest that have come in the wake of George Floyd’s death. We’ve seen calls to defund and disband police departments. And as an attorney general and a leader, what do you think of how America has responded? And in light of that, how should America respond?

Rutledge: The officer who killed George Floyd had absolutely no business being a law enforcement officer. And that spark that ignited the civil unrest that we’ve seen across the country, we must listen to individuals with these concerns. But what we cannot do is allow violent, dangerous protest to occur.

We will protect peaceful protest. That is a constitutional protection, and we will protect it all day long.

However, we cannot have those who are inciting violence and destruction, hurting other innocent people, and particularly going after our peacekeepers, our men and women in blue—99.9% of them across the country answered the call to serve others, to put their own lives on the line, to stand in that gap between good and evil.

So the idea that is being pushed and promoted that we should defund our police is tearing at the very seams of our democracy. Because Americans, we must enjoy our freedoms and we want to have our kids grow up in safe neighborhoods, but quite frankly, we can’t do that if we have a lawless society.

When you call 911 because you see a strange car pulling into your neighbor’s driveway and someone’s sneaking around the house, you want someone to show up. If you have someone approach your child at the park that’s a shaky character, so to speak, you want a law enforcement officer to come out there and talk to that person and ask them why they’re talking to a 10-year-old girl at the park.

However, if we defund our police, we won’t have the resources needed to keep Americans safe and secure. We should be propping up our law enforcement officers.

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Likewise, if we have a bad law enforcement officer, we need to be able to fire that individual to where he or she should never be able to serve the public and have the ability to do the sort of harm that this man did in taking the life of George Floyd.

Del Guidice: You recently announced, in light of the attacks law enforcement have seen, that around $2 million would be allocated to all your Department of Public Safety for Crime Victims Reparations Program, and to protect Arkansas families. Why is this so important?

Rutledge: I allocated that $2.1 million to the Department of Public Safety specifically for crime victims because this allows families and victims who have been impacted by violent crimes to be reimbursed for some of the costs that they incurred, perhaps it is actual funeral expenses.

One of the biggest uses of those moneys goes to what’s called child advocacy centers, and child advocacy centers are critical for young people who have been physically abused, whether by being struck or being sexually abused by an adult.

And these children go to a child advocacy center to be interviewed, to have rape tests done. So that way it is a safe environment designed specifically with counselors and social workers to give those children a safe haven to go to because they need to be around an adult who loves them—more so than ever with young kids who are out of school because of this pandemic.

Too many of these young people are at home with absolute monsters and they’re not around their teachers and principals and school bus drivers who are what we call mandatory reporters. If they see something wrong, they are required by law to say something and report it to a child abuse hotline.

Well, these littles are not around those people right now. And they’re around adults who don’t love them as they should and, quite frankly, they may be living day to day in a house of horrors.

So these funds are going to be available for those child advocacy centers. When those children do get back in school or an adult does notice that something’s not quite right with that child and reports it to the hotline, … we can get that child out of those circumstances.

Del Guidice: Thank you for sharing that perspective and what you’re doing there.

Lastly, and on a more personal note, you are a very busy woman. You obviously are the attorney general for Arkansas. You have a young daughter, you’re a wife, you’re a mom. Can you share a little bit about how you balance all of the things that you’re doing at once and how you do everything that you do?

Rutledge: I am blessed to have an incredible team at the Attorney General’s Office and a very loving family. …

My daughter will be 2 in July. My husband is a row crop farmer and the farm is a couple of hours away. My mother-in-law is 89 and lives with us. And so we are very busy, but I have an incredible team at the Attorney General’s Office, and I have a good exercise routine and I pray a lot.

So we just do the best that we can to take care of the people of Arkansas. But it all involves having, again, incredible people around me and supporting me, whether it’s the team here at the Attorney General’s Office or my family and friends at home. And so we’re just very blessed to be in this position, to be able to serve the people of Arkansas.

Del Guidice: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, thank you so much for joining us today on The Daily Signal Podcast.

Rutledge: Well, thank you. You have a great day.

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