St. Thomas — “The potential for government failure and the resulting humanitarian crisis on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is high,” reads the recently unclassified J-2 assessment obtained by the House Oversight Committee. The previously classified military assessment written five days after hurricane Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico has shed light on how the Trump administration was briefed about the storms’ impacts last year.
The intelligence assessment, written five days after Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, was prepared for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Maryland Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings is demanding answers on whether President Trump was aware of the assessment at the time, noting that the President gave public comments during that period praising relief efforts. The President blasted Puerto Rican officials who raised similar concerns in the now public report.
The report specifically warned of an impending, “humanitarian crisis” in both U.S. controlled territories following the catastrophic category 5 storms. “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 September 25 report stated.
Earlier this month, House Democrats accused the Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, of failing to conduct a “fact-based investigation of what went wrong and who was responsible.”
The unusually active Atlantic hurricane season left the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with crippled infrastructure and limited supplies of food and water — like any islands, most supplies including food and water are imported. Century-old laws like the Jones Act, limited how the 3,515 square mile island received much of its aid. After President Trump waived the Jones Act in the territory, it expired in early October.
That means the island went back to paying double the shipping costs for food and supplies, imposing exorbitant shipping costs on the U.S. island. The waiver had meant that Puerto Rico had the option of importing food, fuel and supplies more quickly, and for half the cost.
Pressure from Congress
Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Del. Stacey Plaskett, (D-VI) made an appearance on the Washington Journal on Thursday, Plaskett took take aim at the President’s version of facts after he claimed that nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, “did not die” as a result of hurricane Maria.
Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) discusses Trump administration responses to Hurricanes Maria and Harvey in 2017, and the latest response to Hurricane Florence.
— Washington Journal (@cspanwj) September 13, 2018
In an interview with the Washington Journal minutes after Trumps tweet, the Congresswoman said, “[If] someone fires a gun off in a very crowded place and people stampede, you’re responsible if someone gets killed in that stampede — and that’s exactly what that 3,000 represents with that hurricane.” Pointing out in the interview that the Virgin Islands was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria as category 5 storms.
Read: 4 Reasons Uber is Available in Puerto Rico & not the Virgin Islands
A report submitted by House Democrats — which Plaskett is a member of — details the disparity between the oversight of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria, pointing out that Gowdy held no full Committee hearings and didn’t request important documents from the White House.
NEW DOC: intelligence assessment for Defense Secretary and Chairman of Joint Chiefs five days after PR hurricane warned about dire situation and “potential for government failure.” https://t.co/NhQSQowicS pic.twitter.com/vyqOvkCx3j
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) September 13, 2018
Neglected U.S. Territories
As Congress details the disparities in response time, and investigations following hurricanes Irma and Maria compared to hurricane Katrina in 2005, Puerto Ricans, Virgin Islanders and residents of Guam continue to point out disparities in their status as U.S. citizens. “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 report ended.
The federal response to both Irma and Maria created a humanitarian crisis for both island territories, as the backlash began to circle the White House.
Plaskett and elected officials from Puerto Rico worked together to lobby members of Congress to update the laws that would have forced both territories to rebuild their infrastructure, “as it was.” The Congresswoman says that now the law has been amended and allows both governments to “build as it should be.” The Congresswoman went on to lead a congressional delegation in July that introduced Minority House leader Nancy Pelosi to local officials in the territory.
“[We’ll] have the authority to put more lines underground, create micro grids, [and] alternative energy — I just want to make sure that we are being very thoughtful about how we do this,” Plaskett remarked in April.
On Monday, Congressman Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, issued a blistering statement:
“President Trump’s actions today are a direct and frantic response to the dramatic events that unfolded last Friday, when his campaign chairman pleaded guilty to all criminal charges against him—including conspiracy against the United States—and then agreed to fully cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
With the walls clearly closing in on him, President Trump is lashing out with this extraordinarily reckless and irresponsible release of classified information in a desperate attempt to distract from the seven guilty pleas and the mounting evidence of multiple criminal enterprises among his closest advisors.”
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018