U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. 
Leah Millis/Reuters

Why FEMA’s chief is defending Trump on his Puerto Rico conspiracy theory

As Donald Trump and his team prepared to deal with Hurricane Florence and its effects, the president thought it’d be a good idea to announce his rejection of the official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. As the Republican explained it, the official estimate from independent researchers is the result of a conspiracy, launched by “the Democrats” to make him look “as bad as possible.”

The more the president faced pushback, the more he balked at reality. As the controversy grew, Trump insisted – over and over and over and over and over again – that his conspiracy theory deserved to be taken seriously.

But the story got even stranger yesterday when his FEMA chief offered a tacit defense of the nonsensical claims.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long Sunday questioned the relevance of independent studies tying thousands of deaths to the aftermath of last September’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, echoing President Donald Trump’s criticism of those findings as Florence continues to batter the Carolinas.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Long defended the president for his response to Hurricane Maria last year and argued that findings from multiple academic studies were “all over the place.”

Long told Chuck Todd, “I don’t know why the studies were done,” adding that he believes Trump “is being taken out of context.” (He’s not and the context doesn’t help.)

For some reason, the FEMA chief went on to say in the same interview, “You know the other thing that goes on, there’s all kinds of studies on this that we take a look at. Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can’t blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody.”

It’s worth taking a moment to consider why in the world Long would say these things.

One possibility is that the FEMA administrator has found himself in the middle of an ethics mess, and Long may be saying strange things on national television in order to satisfy his boss who’ll decide his professional fate.

The Wall Street Journal  reported on Friday night:

As Hurricane Florence was forming in the Atlantic, senior Trump administration officials considered replacing the head of Federal Emergency Management Agency amid allegations that he misused resources traveling to his home in North Carolina, according to people familiar with the matter.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long is the target of an internal investigation looking into frequent travel between the nation’s capital and his home in Hickory, N.C., according to people briefed on the probe. The investigation included surveilling Mr. Long as he was driven 400 miles each way on his commute, the people said.

Investigators have told administration officials that Mr. Long, while under surveillance, often left agency headquarters on Thursdays and traveled home with a caravan of federal workers, who stayed in nearby hotels for the long weekend, the people said. He has spent about 150 days in North Carolina since he took over the job last year, which included weekends and time-off, the people said.

The next day, Trump expressed his pleasure with Long after the FEMA chief reportedly said his agency has “never had the support that we have had from this president.”

Does Long believe his talking points – which apparently includes defending ridiculous conspiracy theories – or does Long, facing an ethics investigation, believe flattering Trump is the key to avoiding unemployment? Given what we know about this president and how officials have learned to curry favor with Trump, the latter is very easy to believe.