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Federal watchdog probes potential White House "interference" in Puerto Rico aid

A resident stands on her property after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico.
A resident stands on her property after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

An attorney at the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General said on Tuesday that the watchdog will open a probe to determine whether the White House interfered with the distribution of millions of dollars in disaster aid for Puerto Rico following 2017's Hurricane Maria, reports the Washington Post.

The backdrop: Trump's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria triggered concern among Democrats after he refused to allocate additional funds to the U.S. territory and chose not to visit the island ravaged by the hurricane as quickly as he had when natural disasters struck Florida and Texas. As the Post notes, "Congress has appropriated nearly $20 billion in HUD disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, only $1.5 billion of which has been approved for spending."

Details: Kirkland said the probe comes at the request of congressional lawmakers as part of a broader look at HUD's management of disaster grants.

  • The Post reported that a "bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking into broader delays in the spending of federal aid for a number of regions struck by natural disasters, including Texas and Florida."
  • The Post also reported that HUD Secretary Ben Carson blamed Puerto Rick's “history of fiscal malfeasance," for the "additional financial controls ... to ensure this disaster recovery money is spent properly.”
  • "On Monday, the Government Accountability Office published a report finding that the federal government has been “slow” to get block grants to areas struck by disasters."

Yes, but: Kirkland told lawmakers that his office may encounter jurisdictional limitations "to look into the totality" of the administration's response. "But where we can, we have asked those questions that Congress asked us to get to the bottom of," the Post cited him saying.

Go deeper: Trump’s "A Plus treatment" highlights political approach to disaster relief