Trump's false claim on Puerto Rico deaths

CNN's Alisyn Camerota dives into President Trump's tweet asserting the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was much lower than reality.

Posted: Sep 14, 2018 7:44 AM
Updated: Sep 14, 2018 8:19 AM

Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump denied this reality as a hurricane barrels toward the Carolinas.

"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," he said in a tweet Thursday morning as Carolinians prepared to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.

After Trump received backlash from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers over this false claim, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley released a statement Thursday that said, "As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the President directed the entire Administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico."

"President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations," the statement read.

Earlier this month, the island's governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. CNN's own reporting reflects similar numbers. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.

Top Republicans broke from Trump's assessment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has "no reason to dispute those numbers."

"Casualties don't make a person look bad, so I have no reason to dispute these numbers," he said Thursday.

"It was devastating. It was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It's an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time, you couldn't get to people for a long time," Ryan said.

"I have no reason to dispute those numbers," he added. "Those are just the facts of what happened."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is locked in a tight Senate race, also split from Trump.

"I disagree with @POTUS-- an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I'll continue to help PR," he tweeted.

Trump has consistently denied any fault for his administration in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the President has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, saying earlier this week that it was "an incredible, unsung success."

Seeking praise

His comments run counter to how many locals and experts have assessed the federal government's response.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office, noting that the island location is "tough" during a hurricane due to the inability to transport vital equipment and supplies by truck. "It was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic of the administration's handling of the storm, has cast blame on the federal government for failing to provide adequate assistance in the aftermath of the storm, and she slammed Trump's assertion Tuesday.

"In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself. You should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I'm not content with everything I did, I should have done more. We should all have done more," Cruz told CNN's Anderson Cooper later Tuesday evening.

"But the President continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility, and the problem is that if he didn't acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, God bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina," Cruz said.

Trump administration officials admit fault

While the President has frequently praised the government response in the year since the hurricane, others in the administration have acknowledged learned lessons.

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office released a report that revealed FEMA had been so overwhelmed with storms by the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico that more than half of the workers it was deploying to disasters were known to be unqualified for the jobs they were doing in the field.

And FEMA Administrator Brock Long has said FEMA made changes to some of its priorities and procedures.

"We made a lot of changes in real time in addition to the high-level efforts that we learned through our after-action process. Bottom line is, we are concentrating on what we call critical lifelines -- health, safety, security. You know, we've got food, shelter, health and medical, power and fuel, communications, transportation, hazardous waste," he told reporters on a conference call on Hurricane Lane preparations last month.

"We are hyper-focused on those seven critical lifelines because we realized last year that if any one of those lifelines goes down, then life safety is in jeopardy. And so, we're reorganizing the firepower of the federal government underneath these critical lifelines, we're pushing forward," Long added.

Trump also alleges partisan ploy

In a second tweet Thursday, Trump cast blame on Democrats, who he said are trying to make him look bad.

"This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!" he wrote.

The death toll study was commissioned by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a member of Puerto Rico's "New Progressive Party." It was conducted by the nonpartisan George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.

There has been no evidence to indicate that partisan politics has played a role in the calculation of the death tally, and George Washington University released a statement Thursday that said it stands by its work.

Rosselló told CNN on Thursday that the Puerto Rican government is "confident" in the results of the study and that he has no reason to believe the estimate was part of an effort by Democrats to undermine the President.

"There's no reason to doubt the validity of these studies, no reason to expect -- even though it's an estimate -- that it's not far away from what the accurate toll should be," Rosselló said.

He also said that "the victims nor the people of Puerto Rico deserve to have their pain questioned."

"The moment is not to have political bickering or to argue about other things that are not important, but rather to focus on the pain and remember those who lost their lives and focus on rebuilding the future," the governor added.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for clarification on Trump's claim of the billions of dollars raised.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
Marshall833
Montgomery831
Sunflower813
Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
Webster691
Calhoun644
Humphreys607
Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
Chambers35325
Walker3442
Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
Coffee2291
Sumter2206
Autauga2164
Houston2094
Bullock2034
Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
Covington771
Jackson772
Crenshaw763
Macon754
Henry742
Bibb721
Washington686
Blount611
Escambia573
Lawrence480
Geneva400
Conecuh391
Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 83°
Columbus
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 86°
Oxford
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 81°
Starkville
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 82°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather