In a pair of tweets late Friday, Trump first quoted a Washington Post story, which recounted that he had been told only 16 people had died in the storm when he visited the island last September, shortly after Maria made landfall.
Trump's comment renewed criticism of the government's response to two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico past year. Indirect deaths are harder to count because they can include such things as heart attacks, electrocutions from downed power lines and failure to receive dialysis because the power is out - and those kinds of fatalities can happen after a storm has ended but while an area is struggling to restore electricity, clean water and other health and safety services. "As time went by it did not go up by much", he says, with zero evidence.
Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett reports. Trump dismissed the findings Thursday, tweeting: "If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list".
This "issue" was not on my radar until one of my kids texted in a family chat: "Is trump off his rocker with this Puerto Rico death toll stuff?"
"The president's comments on the almost 3,000 American lives lost in Puerto Rico are shameful".
Largely due to decades of neglect and years of fiscal crisis, the Puerto Rican electrical grid collapsed into the United States' longest-ever blackout after Maria hit on September 20, 2017. They said, 'Throw 'em to me!
Puerto Rican officials did not respond to request for comment.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a Facebook post in Spanish, "the victims of Puerto Rico, and the people of Puerto Rico in general, do not deserve to be questioned about their pain".
Puerto Rico's government, which is neither Republican nor Democratic, but run by the New Progressive party, a pro-statehood, Puerto Rico-only party, accepted the 2,975 number as a legitimate estimate of the storm's true toll.
Whether those statements will be enough in an election that is shaping up to be all about the president is unknown. We will never know how many we lost.
House SpeakerPaul Ryan also stood by the study. "Very good towels", Trump said after his visit to Puerto Rico, where he was criticized for light-heartedly tossing paper towels into a crowd as if they were campaign swag.
FEMA said in a court filing last month that Puerto Rico has received $3.9 billion in assistance for Hurricane Maria, compared with $2.4 billion for Texas for Hurricane Harvey and $1.1 billion for Florida for Hurricane Irma.
Trump's Thursday morning tweets focused on a George Washington University study released last month that examined the toll from Hurricane Maria.
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