Trump wanted to trade ‘dirty and poor’ Puerto Rico for Greenland, says ex-White House official

Some 3,000 people were killed when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017

Matt Mathers
Thursday 20 August 2020 12:25 BST
Trump White House spokesperson refers to Puerto Rico as 'that country' on live television twice

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Donald Trump wanted to sell Puerto Rico or swap it for Greenland because he viewed the Caribbean territory as “dirty” and “poor”, a former senior White House official has said.

Miles Taylor, who served as chief of staff to the former Department for Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said the president made the comments in August 2018 – less than a year after Puerto Rico had been devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“Not only did he want to purchase Greenland, he actually said he wanted to see if we could sell Puerto Rico,” Mr Taylor told MSNBC on Wednesday. “Could we swap Puerto Rico for Greenland because, in his words, Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor.”

The comments by Taylor, who recently backed Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, appear to corroborate claims made in a New York Times report last month. White House officials never seriously pursued the suggestion of selling Puerto Rico, the Times report stated.

Maria was a deadly category five hurricane that tore through Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. It is considered one of the worst natural disasters to hit the islands, and the most devastating Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne hit the region in 2004.

In Puerto Rico – a US territory – some 3,000 people were killed in the storm, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage, decimating livelihoods and entire communities.

“The president expressed deep animus towards the Puerto Rican people behind the scenes,” Taylor continued. “These are people who were recovering from the worst disaster of their lifetimes. He is their president. He should be standing by them, not trying to sell them off to a foreign country,” he added.

Responding to Taylor's comments on Twitter, Mr Trump described the former DHS official as a “disgruntled” employee who he had “never heard of”.

White House spokesperson Judd Deere said the former DHS official is “another creature of the DC swamp who never understood the importance of the president’s agenda or why the American people elected him and clearly just wants to cash in”.

Taylor said Mr Trump, who was widely criticised for his handling of the disaster, made the comments in August 2018, shortly before revisiting Puerto Rico as the territory continued its recovery operation.

Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of Puerto Rico capital's San Juan, said at the time that Mr Trump’s response to the hurricane was a “stain on his presidency”. “The Trump administration killed the Puerto Rican with neglect,” she added.

During his first visit to the territory in October 2017, the president was widely condemned for throwing packages of paper towels at hurricane survivors, in what was described as a “PR, 17-minute meeting”.

The sight of the US president throwing paper towels was “terrible and abominable”, Ms Yulin Cruz added.

Mr Trump, however, later described his visit as a “great day” in a message posted to Twitter. He claimed that most of the Puerto Rican people showed “great warmth and friendship”, as he hit out at “fake” coverage of the event.

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