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Trump Wanted to Withhold Wildfire Aid to California Over Political Differences, Former DHS Official Says

Politics
Trump Wanted to Withhold Wildfire Aid to California Over Political Differences, Former DHS Official Says
Trump and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones view damage from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California on Nov. 17, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump wanted to cut off wildfire relief money to California because the state did not support his political goals, a former administration staffer has claimed.


In a scathing campaign ad released Monday by Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Miles Taylor said that his experience had showed him that the president wanted to "exploit the Department of Homeland Security for his own political purposes and to fuel his own agenda."

In one example, Taylor cited a phone call Trump made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"He told FEMA to cut off the money and to no longer give individual assistance to California," Taylor said. "He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn't support him and that politically it wasn't a base for him."

Taylor does not say when Trump made the alleged call, the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out.

However, Trump did publicly clash with California over wildfire aid two months after the Camp Fire killed 84 people and devastated the town of Paradise.

In January 2019, he said he had ordered FEMA not to give any more money to the state, but said the reason was forest management policies, not politics.

"Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen," the president tweeted at the time. "Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!"

The tweet was widely criticized by California firefighters and politicians at the time for making such a threat following a major tragedy. Trump's focus on forest management was also seen as a way to downplay the role of the climate crisis in fueling more extreme fires.

"Californians endured the deadliest wildfire in our state's history last year. We should work together to mitigate these fires by combating climate change, not play politics by threatening to withhold money from survivors of a deadly natural disaster," California Senator Kamala Harris, who is now Joe Biden's running mate in his bid to unseat Trump in November, tweeted at the time.

Trump critics also pointed out that more than half of forested land in California is controlled by the federal government, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. However, despite Trump's threat, the aid was never actually withheld.

The White House responded to Taylor's video by saying he had never raised any complaints while working for DHS from 2017 to 2019.

"This individual is another creature of the D.C. 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," White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement to POLITICO.

In the video, Taylor also endorsed Biden in the November election, becoming one of the highest ranking former administration officials to do so, ABC 7 reported.

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