Defense Department and FEMA officials accidentally included a climate reporter on an internal email list that included discussions of the Trump administration’s struggle to convince the public that the response effort was going well.
Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle said he repeatedly notified officials at the Pentagon to their error but kept receiving the internal emails marked “unclassified” for five days.
“Those messages, each of which was marked ‘unclassified,’ offer a glimpse into the federal government’s struggle to convince the public that the response effort was going well. That struggle was compounded by the commander-in-chief, and eased only when public attention was pulled to a very different disaster,” writes Flavelle in a Bloomberg story published Friday.
The internal email exchanges mainly focus on President Trump’s war of words with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz over Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
Below are passages from those messages received between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2 by Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle, tied to the events that federal officials were trying to respond to.
Sept. 28: Eight days after Maria hit, coverage of the federal government’s response is getting more negative.
The Government Message: Pentagon officials tell staff to emphasize “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations” and for spokespeople to avoid language about awaiting instructions from FEMA, “as that goes against the teamwork top-line message.”
The Government Message: FEMA talking points ignore Cruz, instructing its officials to say that “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.”
Sept. 30: Trump attacks the mayor’s “poor leadership ability.” The Pentagon worries that Trump’s “dialogue” with Cruz is becoming the story, with “many criticizing his lack of empathy.”
The Government Message: FEMA stresses its success in reaching “all municipalities in Puerto Rico.”
Oct. 1: Trump calls critics of the response “politically motivated ingrates.”
The Government Message: Defense staff admit that “the perception of USG response continues to be negative.” Spokespeople are told to say, “I am very proud of our DOD forces,” before conceding “there are some challenges to work through.”
Oct. 2: The massacre in Las Vegas dominates the headlines.
The Government Message: The shooting “has drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response,” FEMA says. Still, the roundup seems to have lost some of its previous optimism. It concludes, simply: “Negative tonality.”
President Trump warned Thursday that FEMA and the U.S. military can’t provide aid to Puerto Rico “forever,” even as the hurricane-ravaged island struggles to provide power, water and other basic services three weeks after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.
More than 80% of the island remains without power since the Category 4 storm made landfall Sept. 20 with sustained winds approaching 155 mph. More than 45 people were killed and entire communities were destroyed. Communications were compromised and damage to ports, airports and roads further conspired to complicate aid efforts.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.