MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Despite criticism that President Donald Trump has received over his handling of hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, the President recently pointed out that the Clinton administration’s FEMA director, James Lee Witt, said he thinks Trump and his team deserve an “A+” but that’s simply not true.
In an exclusive telephone interview with James Lee Witt, CBS4’s Eliott Rodriguez asked him specifically whether he said Mr. Trump deserves an A+.
Here’s the transcript of that conversation.
Eliott Rodriguez: “Director Witt, President Trump just said you gave his administration an A+ for his work in Puerto Rico.”
Witt: “Well, he expanded the truth. During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I was asked would I give them an A, and I said yes, they’ve done a good job, but that was way before Maria.”
Eliott: “The president has said three times that you gave him an A+ for his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.”
Witt: “I didn’t say Maria.”
Eliott: “Did you say anything about Puerto Rico?”
Eliott: “Have you heard the president make these comments?”
Witt: “Yes, I heard it and I’ve put out a statement on that.”
Eliott: “Is the president not telling the truth?”
Witt: “Well, I’m not going to say he’s not telling the truth but I was only talking about Harvey and Irma.”
Eliott: “What about Puerto Rico?”
Witt: “I did not say Puerto Rico.”
In addition, Mr. Witt released the following statement:
“I was Director of FEMA for eight years and in that position responded to 350 Presidential disaster declarations. Disaster responses are about people – not politics.
Shortly after the initial responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Florida and Texas, I was asked if I would give the Trump Administration and FEMA an A+ for those responses. I said I would, on both hurricanes. This was prior to hurricane Maria in Puerto Rica and the Virgin Islands. Even today, it is yet to be determined whether the ultimate response to that hurricane will get an A, C or F or something else. As time goes by that will become apparent.
Disaster responses in the continental United States are made easier by our systems of highways, power repair and water supply and the large number of people and specialized equipment which can react with great speed.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and our citizens there, are not as easy to reach as Florida or Texas, and present special and substantial issues of planning, logistics, and shipping, offloading, housing, water and adequacy of medical facilities.”
James Lee Witt
Former FEMA Director
The hurricane knocked out all of Puerto Rico’s power when it tore across the island.
Less than 20 percent of the grid is back online and, while hundreds of large generators have been brought in, roughly half of the territory’s 51 sewage treatment plants are out of service, including several that sit upstream of drinking water supplies.