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AP FACT CHECK: Trump off the mark on Puerto Rico hurricane

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:30 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:27 AM

President Donald Trump struck false notes in addressing Puerto Rico's crisis in recent days, exaggerating both the ferocity of a truly ferocious hurricane and the pace of recovery. He also seemed to raise false hope that the territory's staggering debt would go away.

A look at his remarks during and after his visit to the hurricane-ravaged island:

TRUMP: "This has been the toughest one. This has been a Category 5, which — few people have ever even heard of a Category 5 hitting land. But it hit land and, boy, did it hit land." — remarks Tuesday in Puerto Rico.

THE FACTS: As terrible as it was, Maria actually made landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, not 5. Winds were at 155 mph (249 kph), not 157 (253), the minimum for Category 5. It's a distinction no doubt lost on Puerto Ricans — the storm was even stronger than Harvey and Irma upon landfall, said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. But, "operationally it was a Category 4 hurricane."

Trump has repeatedly misstated the record. A week earlier, he said: "It actually touched down as a Category 5. People have never seen anything like that, and it was dead center." And: "The second one hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5. I don't believe anybody's ever seen that happen before, hit land with that kind of velocity."

Trump also said at one point that Maria had winds of 200 mph (322 kph). No official reports put the winds that strong.

His supposition that no other hurricane has made landfall with such velocity is wrong, even when limiting the scope of the comparison to the United States. Maria's winds at landfall were exceeded by three Category 5 hurricanes that came ashore on the U.S. mainland: in the Florida Keys in 1935, Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992. And Maria wasn't the strongest recorded hurricane to hit Puerto Rico. Hurricane San Felipe was. It made landfall in 1928 as a Category 5.


TRUMP on Puerto Rico's debt: "We're going to have to wipe that out. ... I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that." — to Fox News on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Washington doesn't have the authority to force investors to take massive losses, if that's what he meant. And Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said afterward: "We are not going to be offering a bailout for Puerto Rico or for its current bondholders."

Much of the $74 billion debt is tied up in court-supervised restructuring since Puerto Rico sought a form of bankruptcy protection last year. Brian Setser, a former Treasury official who worked on Puerto Rico's debt crisis, said the court process is likely to yield significant debt reduction, but "it is not something that the president can make happen."

Trump's remark contributed to a plunge in Puerto Rico's bond prices. Falling bond prices are a sign that investors may be less likely to be repaid — something that usually makes it more expensive for governments and companies to borrow.

Although the type of federal hurricane recovery aid that Puerto Rico receives could influence how debt repayment unfolds, that's not a bailout and creditors won't be paid anytime soon.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Puerto Rico will "have to go through that process" set up during the Obama administration "to have a lasting recovery and growth." There was no hint in her comments that Trump plans an initiative to make the debt disappear.


TRUMP: "Who needs a flashlight? ... Flashlights, you don't need 'em anymore. You don't need 'em anymore." — while handing out flashlights and tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: It's possible his particular audience did not need flashlights, but many Puerto Ricans do. He was visiting the upscale Guaynabo neighborhood, one of the fastest to recover. But more than 90 percent of the island's electricity customers remained without power at the time, nearly two weeks after the hurricane. And those who have it back are experiencing periodic blackouts.

Trump called the recovery "nothing short of a miracle." But the tour showed him a small slice of the island and exposed him to few critics of the relief effort. Visits to homes hammered by the storm were pre-arranged. Water shortages and despair continue in much of the island even as relief supplies have started to move faster and more gas stations start pumping again.

Even in the heart of San Juan, a few miles from Trump's path, people were hauling clothes fouled with sewage and wet mattresses out of homes still without electricity as he issued his upbeat report. They said no one has come to help them since the storm hit.


Associated Press writers Danica Coto and Jill Colvin in San Juan, Alexandra Olson in New York and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

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Trump lashes out at Mueller, Comey, McCabe, over Russia probe

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 4:44 AM

Continuing to attack the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any links to his campaign, President Donald Trump on Sunday went on Twitter to attack the veracity of former top officials of the FBI, accusing them of lying, and making up information to use against him in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

As he attacked former FBI Director James Comey, and recently fired top FBI official Andrew McCabe, Mr. Trump appeared to be watching television on Sunday morning, citing one of his favorite Fox News programs, Fox and Friends.

“Wow, watch Comey lie under oath,” the President tweeted at one point, moving on to take more jabs at McCabe, who was fired on Friday.

“I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at later date,” the President wrote. “Can we call them the fake memos?”

On Twitter in recent days, Mr. Trump has again focused his ire on the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once more making the argument that the FBI went easy on Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, and showed bias on the Trump-Russia probe.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” the President tweeted, ending with a familiar line: “WITCH HUNT!”

Mueller’s probe has already netted a series of guilty pleas from people who worked for the President’s campaign, with two specifically pleading guilty to lying about contacts involving Russia.

As the President used Twitter as his bully pulpit, one of the President’s lawyers also stirred the pot by saying it was time to end the Mueller investigation, which many in Washington believe is far from being complete.

Democrats in Congress again warned the President not to try to end that probe.

“What, Mr. President, are you hiding from the American people?” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

“Thou doth protest too much, methinks,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).

“This shows how scared the Trump Administration is about what Mueller will find,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “This investigation must continue.”

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With retirement of acting chief, NASA finds itself in leadership limbo

Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 1:00 AM

After operating for more than a year with a temporary chief, NASA faces an unprecedented leadership bind as its acting Administrator announced this week that he would retire at the end of April, with no hint that the Senate will vote by then on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the space agency.

“It has been a long process but we are optimistic that the vote will come soon,” said Sheryl Kaufman, the Communications Director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

“We hope that happens soon,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as House Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence pressed the Senate for action on Bridenstine.

The problem for Bridenstine is that just one Republican has refused to support him for the job as NASA Administrator – that being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and with only a bare majority, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bridenstine does not have the votes to win.

Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, NASA has been led by Robert Lightfoot, a well-respected NASA veteran who has drawn bipartisan praise.

But with Lightfoot announcing this week that he is retiring – effective April 30 – it’s possible that NASA could be forced to dig deeper down the depth chart for another temporary leader at the space agency.

“Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House Science Committee.

Apart from a couple of major issues, Bridenstine in 2017 did not cast votes on regular legislation in the House – while waiting for his Senate confirmation.

This year has been different – Bridenstine is voting on most legislation in the House, except for measures that deal with NASA.

“He will represent his constituents as fully as possible while awaiting the confirmation vote by the full Senate,” said his spokeswoman.

But without enough support, there’s no hint of a vote on Bridenstine in the Senate.

“The facts of this nomination have not changed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) back in January – and two months later, that statement is still true.

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Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:57 PM
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:48 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts


Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses, The New York Times reported Thursday. The newspaper was the first to report on the subpoena, citing two unidentified sources briefed on the situation.

The breadth of the subpoena was not immediately clear, although some documents sought were related to Russia, the Times reported. According to the newspaper, the subpoena was served “in recent weeks.”

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

The Trump Organization has already provided investigators with a range of documents, most focused on the period between when Trump announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015, to his inauguration, in January 2017, CNN reported in January. Citing an unidentified source familiar with the situation, the news network reported that the recently issued subpoena was meant “to ‘clean up’ and to ensure that all related documents are handed over to the special counsel.”

In a statement released to several news outlets Thursday, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing the Trump Organization, said reports of the subpoena were “old news.”

>> Related: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates to plead guilty in Mueller investigation

“Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests,” Futerfas said. “This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”

The decision to subpoena the Trump Organization, which is owned by the president and managed by his children, appeared to mirror the strategy employed by Mueller with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper noted that the campaign “voluntarily gave documents to the special counsel for months before receiving a subpoena in October.”

>> Related: Mueller indicts 13 Russians, 3 Russian entities in election meddling probe

Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017 to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His investigation has thus far led to several indictments and a handful of guilty pleas from people connected to Trump.

Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities last month on accusations that they interfered with American elections and political processes, starting in 2014. On Twitter, Trump claimed that information in the indictments proved his innocence on allegations of colluding with Russia to win the election.

Five people have pleaded guilty to charges levied against them in Mueller's investigation. Most recently, former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States.

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Ohio lawmaker wants military to assist Puerto Rico cleanup

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 10:07 AM

            Volunteers are instructed on how to assess damaged trees in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, Jan. 17, 2018. Researchers are studying the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria to this lush, 28,000-acre tropical rainforest to better understand how forests could be changed permanently as the world continues to warm. (Erika P. Rodriguez/The New York Times)
            ERIKA P. RODRIGUEZ
Volunteers are instructed on how to assess damaged trees in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, Jan. 17, 2018. Researchers are studying the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria to this lush, 28,000-acre tropical rainforest to better understand how forests could be changed permanently as the world continues to warm. (Erika P. Rodriguez/The New York Times)(ERIKA P. RODRIGUEZ)

In the aftermath of a whirlwind two-day trip to Puerto Rico, Rep. Brad Wenstrup will push for but the active duty and reservists to help assist in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.

Wenstrup, a Cincinnati Republican who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and who is an Army Reservist, flew into Puerto Rico last Sunday for a field hearing on the VA’s role in the recovery effort. Puerto Rico is still reeling from two back-to-back hurricanes that struck the island six months ago and 11 percent of the island is out of power.

RELATED: Puerto Rican community here still battling the ‘monster’

Wenstrup said the VA plays an outsize role in the island – 72 percent of military veterans there who are eligible for VA care use it – nearly double the usage on the mainland United States.

Along with Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, R-Puerto Rico, Wenstrup toured several VA clinics on the island and also met with representatives from Veterans Service Organizations. Their field hearing was aimed at determining how best to maximize VA resources in Puerto Rico.

RELATED: Ohio National Guard sends medical equipment to Puerto Rico

He said conditions on the island are still grim, with debris stockpiled along the roads and roofs still covered with tarps, but the people are working to recover. However, he said, a shortage of doctors is imperiling the recovery effort because the island’s lackluster economy has spurred many doctors to move away in order to seek better pay and opportunities.

Wenstrup, who chairs the VA Committee’s Health Subcommittee, said the island might be an ideal place for a reservist or guardsman who wants to practice his or her skills as well as provide a service. “This may be an opportunity for a win-win,” he said.

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