New FOIAs: Trump Disputes Hurricane Maria’s Death Toll

Nearly a year after Hurricane María ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, President Trump disputed the death toll numbers.

In a series of tweets, the president claimed that “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico” and that it was a ploy by the Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible.” These Tweets came just weeks after a long-awaited independent study on the fatalities were released.

Originally, the Puerto Rican government’s official death toll stood at 64. But, after doubt was cast on the numbers, the governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló tasked George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health to commission a report on the deaths caused by the storm.

The report found that 2,975 people died in the hurricane and that the Puerto Rican government’s lack of preparedness and personnel training “decreased the perceived transparency and credibility of the Government of Puerto Rico.” Additionally, the study showed that Puerto Rico’s government was not prepared for a storm of this magnitude and that there was insufficient communication personnel which contributed to “delayed information availability, gaps in information and the dissemination of inconsistent information to the public.

Following the independent study, the federal government’s response efforts have been once again called into question. American Oversight filed FOIAs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to find out whether political calculations within the Trump administration factored into the official death count. We have requested records of communications among agency officials regarding Hurricane María’s death tolls, the funeral costs associated with the storm, the Milken Study, and President Trump’s tweets.

American Oversight has also submitted FOIAs seeking any preparedness plans in response to both Hurricanes Maria and Irma and launched an investigation into the $300 million dollar contract to reinstall power in Puerto Rico that was given to a tiny company with connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.