Trump says Congress ‘foolishly’ gave aid to Puerto Rico amid political turmoil on the island

National News

President Trump criticized the leadership of Puerto Rico in a series of tweets Thursday, saying that Congress “foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief” to the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Mr. Trump’s tweets come as hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have protested Gov. Ricardo Rosselló amid a corruption scandal in recent days.

“A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief,” Mr. Trump wrote in one of two tweets, claiming much of the aid was “squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again.”

In fact, Puerto Rico has received $11.2 billion in aid from FEMA and other agencies as of April. Mr. Trump’s figure is the number estimated by the Office of Management and Budget of how much the island could receive over the next two decades.

“I know the people of Puerto Rico well, and they are great. But much of their leadership is corrupt, & robbing the U.S. Government blind!” Mr. Trump said. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll from the end of last year found that 52% of Puerto Ricans believed that Mr. Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria was poor.

Demonstrations against Rosselló turned violent Wednesday, as thousands took to the streets calling for his resignation. 

Backlash is intensifying over a profane and derogatory group chat that targeted people critical of his administration. And while protesters marched through San Juan last night, the investigative group that leaked the messages alleged that there’s a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal behind the chats.  

The island’s Center for Investigative Journalism, the group which published the leaked conversations on Saturday, released a new report alleging a multi-billion dollar corruption network is behind the group chat, where public funds were used to influence and benefit private clients and the Puerto Rican government. It also claims Rosselló knew — and did nothing to stop it. 

Rosselló insists he has no plans to leave his role. But demonstrators say they’re not going anywhere, either: earlier in the day, more than 75,000 protesters marched near the Capitol.

“We are so, so pissed with the government,” demonstrator Carmen Ponet told “CBS This Morning” lead national correspondent David Begnaud.

Many Puerto Ricans have long criticized Rosselló’s handling of Hurricane Maria, and the bankrupt island’s recovery from the worst financial crisis in its history. 

“This is just an example of what is happening,” said demonstrator Ileana Rivera. “The difference now is that we know because of that chat. That’s why we are here… now we know…how they work and how they use our money.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Rosselló has handed over any evidence he has of corruption to the proper authorities. Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice has ordered all 12 people involved in the leaked chat, including Rosselló, to deliver their cell phones for inspection over the next few days.

The White House on Tuesday said the political crisis vindicated Mr. Trump’s repeated accusations that the Puerto Rican government is corrupt. 

“The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “We remain committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse.”

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