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Trump concocts conspiracy theory to explain Puerto Rico death toll

According to the president, a natural disaster didn't kill 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico. He sees the tally as the result of a Democratic conspiracy.
Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan
U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico,...

As Hurricane Florence approached the east coast, Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office on Tuesday about preparations for the storm. But it wasn't long before the president tried to turn one of his highest-profile failures into a success story.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," Trump said about his administration's response to last year's devastation. He added, "I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about.... I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success."

He echoed the sentiment yesterday, insisting his administration "did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico," before blaming a "totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan."

All of this was quite jarring for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Puerto Rico recently increased its death toll from Hurricane Maria to 2,975 people. This morning, however, the president rejected that total in a pair of tweets, declaring the figure the result of a Democratic conspiracy.

"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000."This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!"

It's hard to even know where to start, but let's unpack this a bit.

First, the fact that Americans died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a hurricane -- as opposed to during the storm itself -- does not make the administration's response to the crisis look better. It does the opposite by reinforcing the inadequacy of the federal efforts.

If you get into a serious car accident on a Monday, and die a few days later after receiving substandard care, your doctors don't get to brag about how you were alive earlier in the week and the accident was unrelated to your demise.

Second, the latest death toll wasn't produced by Democratic operatives out to undermine Trump. Rather, the figure came from researchers with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. They published a detailed report that the president can read at his leisure.

I realize that he's constantly concocting conspiracy theories -- and especially fond of conspiracy theories in which he's the victim -- but there's no evidence to support Trump's latest nonsense.

Third, if the White House has concerns about the official death toll, the president could call on Congress to hold hearings and demand a detailed accounting of what transpired in Puerto Rico. Republican lawmakers have refused to examine the tragedy, but if Trump worked with Congress to get answers, we'd all benefit. The likelihood of this happening, however, is close to zero.

And finally, we can now expand our list of those the president doesn't want us to trust. Alas, it's not a short list: Don’t trust news organizations. Don’t trust the courts. Don’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don’t trust unemployment numbers. Don’t even trust election results. Don’t trust photographs of inaugurations.

Evidently, public-health researchers who come up with data Donald Trump doesn't like should be rejected, too.