July 2, 2019 / 3:18 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. House panel sets July 10 deadline in hurricane response probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives committee has called on the White House to turn over documents related to the Trump administration’s handling of hurricanes in 2017 that devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, accusing it of stonewalling.

FILE PHOTO: A participant holds a sign paying tribute to the victims of Hurricane Maria, during the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan, New York, U.S. June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Alvarado Jr./File Photo

In a letter released on Tuesday, the House Oversight and Reform panel said the White House had repeatedly refused to produce any documents about Hurricanes Irma and Maria to lawmakers, who are investigating preparation and relief efforts for the storms, which killed thousands of people.

“It is unacceptable for the White House to completely ignore valid requests from this Committee ... especially when they relate to the death of thousands of American citizens,” the panel’s Democratic chairman, Representative Elijah Cummings, wrote on Monday.

Nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Irma also devastated other parts of the Caribbean and Florida.

The investigation is one of several by the Democratically controlled House that U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, and his administration are fighting.

Democrats, who took control of the chamber after the 2018 congressional elections, are also probing Russian political interference, as well as the administration’s handling of security clearances, personal email use by top White House aides, and Trump’s finances, among other issues.

Trump has vowed not to cooperate with any congressional oversight probes.

The White House has received Cummings’ letter and is considering its response, a senior administration official said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the committee’s Republicans accused Cummings of “manufacturing a controversy to support his obsession with attacking the President for political gain.”

The spokesman said the Trump administration has turned over more than 17,000 documents related to the panel’s hurricane probe and held two hearings on hurricane response efforts.

Cummings said the White House has “completely disregarded” its requests on the hurricane probe, which is examining “the failure to lead a coordinated response,” including a lack of food and fuel contracts ahead of the storm.

The committee “will have no choice but to seek compulsory process” for the administration’s records and is considering additional legislative action to address emergency planning process, Cummings’ letter said.

Such oversight, particularly following disasters, is commonplace for U.S. lawmakers, Cummings added, noting that former Republican President George W. Bush’s administration cooperated in a similar oversight probe, producing documents on its response to deadly Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and other parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Mark Hosenball; editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis

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