Donald Trump, president of the United States. (The Associated Press)

Washington - Amid the federal response to Hurricane María, President Donald Trump asked if the United States could sell Puerto Rico, according to former Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

In an interview with The New York Times, Duke said that in one of the most difficult moments of the emergency, Trump asked whether the federal government could “divest” or “sell” the island. “The president’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman,” Duke said.

According to the former official, Trump’s questions during a meeting related to the federal government’s response to Hurricane María included: “Can we outsource the electricity? Can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that sset?”

Duke said the ideas were never seriously considered or discussed afterward but reflected Trump’s mentality when he tweeted against the island’s politicians.

President George W. Bush’s White House Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status report stated that the federal government’s power over Puerto Rico is so broad that, if they wanted to, they could give the island away.

“The Federal Government may relinquish United States sovereignty by granting independence or ceding the territory to another nation; or it may, as the Constitution provides, admit a territory as a State, thus making the Territory Clause inapplicable,” stated that White House task force report, issued in December 2005.

According to former Secretary Duke, the attitude of former interim White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was not one of solidarity with Puerto Ricans either. She said that before the hurricane hit the island, she argued for an emergency declaration that would facilitate federal assistance.

Then, Mulvaney urged her to “quit being so emotional”, because “it’s not about the people, it’s about the money.” When he visited Puerto Rico in October 2017, two weeks after Hurricane María, President Trump said that because of the cyclone, the island “thrown our budget out of whack.”

Mulvaney denies remarks

Mulvaney denied what Duke said about him. Duke was Homeland Security acting secretary between April 10, 2017, and April 15, 2018.

“I never made such a remark. My experience with the acting director was that she rarely got anything right at D.H.S. At least she’s consistent,” Mulvaney told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, a White House official told El Nuevo Día that regarding the island, “no one can question the President’s support for Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane María” and alluded to the more than $40 billion allocation.

Mulvaney, who while he was White House Chief of Staff retained his previous position as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is also credited with having been a key figure in withholding the disbursement of federal aid Congress approved for Puerto Rico.

Last February, before Mulvaney stepped down, OMB expressed President Trump’s opposition to the Democratic bill passed in the U.S. House, which proposes to allocate nearly $4.9 billion to address natural disasters, mainly the 2020 earthquakes in Puerto Rico.

“Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island,” the OMB statement read.

Duke said that after that meeting in which Trump showed interest in selling Puerto Rico, “she was pleased when the President himself expressed concern about the people of Puerto Rico.” But she added she grew “frustrated as Mr. Trump later traded angry tweets with the island’s politicians.”