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Why Is the FEMA Director Backing Up Trump’s Lies?

The disaster relief chief refused to deny the president’s claim that Democrats doctored the Puerto Rican death toll

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long participates in a briefing on Hurricane Florence at The White House in Washington, DC, September 11, 2018.Donald Trump briefed on Hurricane Florence, Washington DC, USA - 11 Sep 2018

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long participates in a briefing on Hurricane Florence at The White House in Washington, D.C., September 11th, 2018.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency should, ideally, operate independently of the president’s ego. This doesn’t appear to be the case in 2018. During a Sunday morning appearance on Meet the Press, FEMA Director Brock Long defended the president’s claim that the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico had been artificially inflated. “I’ll tell you this,” Long began. “One thing about President Trump is that he, uh, is probably the one president that has had more support for what goes on back here. I think he’s defensive because he knows how hard these guys behind me work day in and day out for a very complex situation.”

In other words, the man charged with leading the government’s disaster response efforts appears, like any good administration official who wants to keep their job, loyal to President Trump above all else.

It didn’t end with Long’s unctuous praise for the president. When Chuck Todd pressed him on Trump’s claim that the death toll was a conspiracy orchestrated by Democrats to make him look bad, all Long could manage was, “I mean, there’s, there’s, uh, I don’t think the studies…I don’t know why the studies were done,” before going on to cite a number of factors that could have caused death other than “the wind, the water and the waves,” none of which were the fault of the president. Spousal abuse, for example.

“You can’t blame spousal abuse after a disaster on anybody,” he said before tacking on the requisite few sentences of unmitigated support for Trump. “The president is very passionate about the work we’ve done,” Long said. “He’s been incredibly supportive of me and the staff. I bet he’s probably the only president who’s held two Cabinet-level meetings, brought his entire Cabinet to this agency to show support. They come through this agency every day. He’s very supportive, which is exactly what this agency needs. There’s too much blame going around, and we need to be focused, Chuck, on what Puerto Rico is going to look like tomorrow.”

But Long’s FEMA didn’t seem very focused on Puerto Rico last fall, when it mattered most. The agency’s response to Hurricane Maria was an unequivocal failure. People were left without electricity, water and other vital supplies for months. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz have both been fiercely critical of the administration’s response, as has FEMA itself. In July, the agency released an internal memo outlining how it mishandled the the relief effort. Supply warehouses were left empty, the staff was not substantial enough and communication issues abounded. For example, as thousands of Puerto Ricans struggled to obtain clean drinking water, countless bottles of it laid undistributed on an airstrip, where they remained as of last week.

Emblematic of any lackey appointed by the president to lead a critical federal agency is a penchant for corruption. Long has that base covered, as well. As Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the East Coast last week, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office revealed that it is currently investigating whether the FEMA director misused government vehicles and personnel while driving from Washington, D.C., to his home in North Carolina. Accompanying Long on his weekend getaways were his aides, who would be put up in hotels at the expense of taxpayers. The frequent excursions reportedly drew the ire of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who grew so frustrated with Long’s prolonged absences from FEMA’s offices in Washington that she asked him to consider resigning, according to Politico. Long denied any wrongdoing while speaking at FEMA briefing Thursday morning. “I would never intentionally run a program incorrectly,” he said. “Bottom line is if we made a mistakes on how a program is run, we’ll work with OIG to get those corrected. Doing something unethical is not part of my DNA, and not part of my track record and my whole entire career.”

As far as Trump administration officials go, Long’s corruption is garden-variety, and unlikely to endanger his place atop FEMA. Botching a relief effort that left nearly 3,000 American citizens dead didn’t seem to affect his standing, either. The greatest threat to Long’s job security would be an appearance on national television that did not feature an outpouring of praise for the president. Long did his duty on Sunday. He knew Trump would be watching. Unfortunately, so was the rest of the nation.

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