New Documents Undermine President’s Repeated Claims, Show Dire Situation in Puerto Rico After Hurricanes

Sep 13, 2018
Press Release
Cummings Says President’s Tweets Disputing Death Toll Are “Appalling, Offensive, and Ignorant of the Misery and Death Suffered by Our Fellow American Citizens in Puerto Rico”

Washington, D.C. (Sept. 13, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter urging Chairman Trey Gowdy to finally send a document request to the White House to produce documents relating to problems with the Trump Administration’s response to the hurricanes last year in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.  

This morning, President Trump tweeted that the death toll in Puerto Rico of nearly 3,000 people was a fictional account manufactured by Democrats.

“President Trump’s comments are appalling, offensive, and ignorant of the misery and death suffered by our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico,” Ranking Member Cummings wrote.  “It is particularly inappropriate that he is spending his time today defending his indefensible record in Puerto Rico while another major hurricane is bearing down on our nation.”

As part of his letter today, Cummings released new documents obtained just this week from the Department of Defense that raise serious questions about President Trump’s many public statements lauding his Administration’s response.

Specifically, the Committee obtained a copy of an unclassified intelligence assessment prepared for Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford, on September 25, 2017—just five days after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico.  This assessment is stark in its warnings:

“The potential for governmental failure and the resulting humanitarian crisis on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is high.  Back-to-back strikes by Hurricanes Irma and Maria have wrecked the islands’ critical infrastructure and key resources, and overwhelmed the territorial emergency response capacities.  The situation is further compounded by their current fiscal crises.  Both territories now suffer from devastated power grids and communications networks, lack of potable water, crippled transportation and supply systems, severely degraded medical services, and an economy that will take months to rebuild.  The ability to get the territories back on their feet quickly is crucial for a growingly desperate population of 3.6 million American citizens.”

The Committee also obtained communications from first responders on the ground in Puerto Rico, including an exchange on September 29, 2017, reporting that search and rescue teams had begun finding “mass graves in mud slide areas.”  These officials reported:  “don’t know if it’s families, or an entire town that was trying to avoid flooding and got buried my [sic] land slide.  Planning for the worst.”

In his letter to Chairman Gowdy, Ranking Member Cummings wrote:  “Since you have refused to request any documents from the White House, it remains unclear whether President Trump received this information and disregarded it in his many public statements, or if there was a serious communication breakdown between the White House and first responders on the ground.  Either scenario raises grave concerns as our nation prepares for the impact of Hurricane Florence in the coming days.”

Last week, Ranking Member Cummings issued a staff report describing how a contract to deliver millions of emergency meals was botched, and urgent requests for fuel to help supermarkets keep food from spoiling went unheeded, resulting in starvation and death.  The report also detailed how Republicans have walled off the White House from any congressional scrutiny—refusing for the past year to request a single document or obtain a single briefing from White House officials relating to the hurricanes.

Click here to read today’s letter.

Click here to see the military intelligence assessment.

Click here to see the search and rescue correspondence.

115th Congress