The chairman of the House committee that oversees Puerto Rico called on the territory’s governor to step down after the FBI arrested two of his former officials on corruption charges Wednesday.
“We’ve crossed that crucible now,” Democratic Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, chair of the House Natural Resource Committee, said Wednesday to The Washington Post. “The restoration of accountability is so key going forward.”
The scandal involves billions in federal aid that Congress recently approved for disaster-hit areas across the U.S., including the island of Puerto Rico.
Authorities charged a total of six people in a 32-count federal indictment — including Angela Avila-Marrero, who previously served as the executive director of the island’s Health Insurance Administration, and Julia Keleher, who previously served as the education secretary. The federal indictments accuse Avila-Marrero and Keleher of directing federal funding to contractors with political connections. However, prosecutors say Rossello himself is not involved in the investigation.
President Donald Trump has long accused Puerto Rico’s government of rampant corruption, and now officials on the island worry the indictments will give the White House more leeway to withhold funds.
“The governor of Puerto Rico and his administration have now given President Trump the ammunition he needed,” San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz, a political opponent of Rossello and a Trump critic, said Wednesday.
The arrests renew questions over whether Puerto Rico’s government is capable of managing billions in funds recently given to them by Washington, D.C.
After months of fighting between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Congress was able to pass a $19 billion aid package that gave financial relief to Puerto Rico and states hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters. Trump signed the aid package in early June.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017. The storm killed an estimated 3,000 people and wiped out power for roughly 1.5 million residents. The effort to fully restore the island’s power took nearly a year to complete. The slow process of allocating funds to Puerto Rico generated criticism against Trump. However, the president had noted before that the island’s government was rife with corruption.
“Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA,” the president tweeted in April.
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