The Trump administration put up barriers that delayed $20 billion in hurricane relief aid to Puerto Rico and blocked an investigation into the delayed funds, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing a 46-page inspector general report.
Access to Housing and Urban Development information was delayed or denied during an investigation into the delayed relief to the US territory for the devastation left by 2017 Hurricane Maria the report found, according to the Post.
Former HUD Secretary Ben Carson and another former department officials declined to be interviewed by investigators during the investigation and former senior Office of Management and Budget officials also declined to give information about decisions related to Puerto Rico’s aid, the newspaper also reported.
“Delays and denials of access and refusals to cooperate negatively affected the ability of the [Office of Inspector General] to conduct this review,” the report says, according to The Post.
Investigators interviewed 20 current and former Housing department officials along with two two Puerto Rico housing officials, but several senior political appointees at HUD “withheld answers to questions, and White House budget office officials involved in delaying the timing of the aid also refused to cooperate” according to the Post.
CNN has reached out to HUD and Carson for comment Thursday.
Former President Donald Trump has been criticized over his handling of the 2017 storm, which devastated the island and killed nearly 3,000 people. He denied any fault by his administration and has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, at one point calling it “an incredible, unsung success.” He was also condemned for his visit to Puerto Rico weeks after the storm, where he was pictured tossing paper towels to a crowd of survivors.
The inspector general’s report also mentioned a never before required review process for distributing disaster funds by OMB prevented HUD from publishing a draft notice of funding by its target date, the newspaper reported. The report also said there was no previous talks on the extra step’s requirement.
On Monday, HUD announced it was lifting restrictions that had limited Puerto Rico from accessing certain recovery funds and that it would release $8.2 billion in previously approved Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds to aid in long-term recovery and efforts to combat future disasters.
CNN previously reported that in 2018 White House officials told congressional leaders and appropriators that the former President did not want any additional relief funding sent to the island. And in 2019, HUD said officials would delay the release of more than $8 billion in funding to help to US territory bolster its disaster defenses, with Carson citing “alleged corruption.”
The House Oversight Committee announced in 2019 it would re-launch an investigation into the Trump administration’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.