The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that the agency is “unreasonably” delaying an investigation into hurricane relief funding for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to a memo obtained by the Washington Post.
The inspector general told congressional staff that the department is taking forever to produce emails and other evidence needed for the investigation, substantially delaying its progress.
“Delayed access to departmental records causes OIG [Office of Inspector General] oversight efforts to be diluted, become stale, or worse, halt entirely,” HUD Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis wrote to department Secretary Ben Carson this week (yeah, that’s right, Ben Carson is still there).
“The OIG has put the department on ample notice that responses to our requests are untimely, that such delays negatively affect our work, and that the delays in OIG access fail to comply with the law,” Oliver Davis wrote.
Oliver Davis wrote in her letter that the average wait time for records requests from HUD has increased from 95 days in 2017 to 151 days in 2018. Last year, she noted, 20 requests sent to the department took more than six months to be completed.
The investigation, which was prompted by Congress, looks into whether the White House had a role in slowing funding for hurricane relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.
After the Post published the story, HUD made all emails requested by the OIG available, which seems to suggest this is something the department could do quicker if it had the motivation.
“HUD has provided all requested emails to its Office of Inspector General, which included more than 2.4 million emails from the past 18 months,” Raffi Williams, HUD spokesman, said in a statement. “Nearly all of these emails, more than 95 percent, have nothing to do with Puerto Rico or the department’s response to the 2017 storms. HUD’s Office of General Counsel filled this request in 18 days, faster than any other formal request we have record of.”
It’s not exactly a secret that Trump hated giving aid to Puerto Rico. He’s spoken about it publicly on multiple occasions. Unsurprisingly, he has apparently discussed it at length behind closed doors as well.
From the Post:
Trump has repeatedly told aides that the funds for Puerto Rico must be closely watched because the territory’s government is corrupt and the economy was in poor shape before Maria, according to White House officials who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. He has also said he wants the White House to monitor how FEMA is spending the money.
HUD, along with the White House, is taking precautions as the investigation advances. The White House requested that administration lawyers be present for any witness interviews. Those lawyers plan to use executive privilege to protect Trump from records requests that involve his deliberations.
Oliver Davis says these steps taken by HUD and the White House are concerning, and could threaten the independence of the investigation.
“The potential exists for the department to attempt to scope and direct our work,” she wrote.