Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman says in her new book that White House chief of staff John Kelly shut down her attempts to get aid for Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria — and he accused the island government of trying to exploit the tragedy to get money from Washington.
She also writes that Kelly and President Donald Trump "referred to Puerto Ricans with derogatory terms many times." Manigault Newman did not say specifically what those terms were.
Manigault Newman described the administration's response to Puerto Rico — after the hurricane took out its electrical grid, left residents without food, water or housing and killed many — as lethargic and contrasted it with the White House's aid to Florida and Texas when those states were hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
In a meeting, Kelly blamed the crisis on Puerto Rico's "already screwed up" infrastructure, she wrote in "Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House," which was released Tuesday. Kelly "suggested the bankrupt government was trying to exploit the hurricane to focus on the United States to foot the bill to rebuild their electrical grid," she continued.
"And God bless (Trump's former homeland security adviser) Tom Bossert, who tried to get the resources, tried to fight. He and I were fighting arm in arm, hand in hand, to try to advocate for Puerto Rico to get what they needed, and John Kelly shut it down," Manigault Newman wrote.
Puerto Rico had been in an economic crisis and its electrical company had gone bankrupt when Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, plunging it into what would be a months-long struggle to restore electricity.
Manigault Newman mocked Trump as she recalled a moment that led to much criticism of the president — when he blithely tossed rolls of paper towels to hurricane victims during his visit to the island. She needled his "cavalier behavior in the face of human tragedy."
"Just like Charlottesville, it was all about him. The devastated people loved him! He was unfairly persecuted by the media … His total lack of empathy is bad enough, but I believe many of the problems and delays with getting aid to Puerto Rico were partly political," Manigault Newman wrote.
The hurricane left Puerto Ricans stranded in mountain regions, cut off some residents from other parts of the island because of destroyed bridges and roads cluttered with debris, left many homeless and sent hundreds of thousands of residents to seek refuge in the mainland, joining others who had left the island because of the economic crisis.
Images of pallets of water and shipping containers of supplies sitting at the San Juan airport set off an explosion of anger led by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz who pleaded for help a and described the response as "something close to genocide."
"The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz was openly critical of the U.S. response," she wrote. "I would not put it past Trump to punish the people of Puerto Rico to teach that woman of color a lesson."
The island still does not know exactly how many people died, but the early toll of 16 deaths was dismissed long ago. Last week, Puerto Rico's government said the death toll could be at 1,400, but a Harvard study has said the toll is more than 4,645.
Many of those deaths were not caused when the hurricane hit but happened because of the interruption of health care, electricity and utility services.
The White House had no immediate comments.