Trump claims without evidence that 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico hurricanes, blames Democrats for inflating toll

  • President Trump disputes the most recent official death toll from hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico last fall.
  • Trump suggests Democrats tried to "make me look as bad as possible" by highlighting the number of people who died in the wake of the storms "when I was successfully raising Billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico."
  • In August, the Puerto Rican government raised the official death count dramatically to 2,975, after maintaining for months that only 64 people had died.
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Zach Gibson | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.

President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the official death toll from hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico last fall — and without evidence blamed Democrats for grossly inflating that tally.

Trump claimed Democrats tried to "make me look as bad as possible" by boosting the number of people who died in the wake of the storms "when I was successfully raising Billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico."

Trump's two-tweet volley came two days after the president drew heavy criticism for claiming that his administration's response to the 2017 hurricanes was "an incredible unsung success."

In August, the Puerto Rican government raised the official death count dramatically to 2,975, after maintaining for months that only 64 people had died as a result of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

The government cited an independent study it commissioned from George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health, which analyzed the death rate in the five months after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump's response to the storms, blasted the president's latest claims.

"Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him," Yulin Cruz tweeted. "NO IT IS NOT."

Nearly a year after the hurricanes decimated the island's weak infrastructure and electrical grid, hundreds of Puerto Rican families were still reportedly living without power.

A man surveys a house that was washed away by heavy surf during the passing of Hurricane Maria in Manati, Puerto Rico on October 6, 2017.
Ricardo Arduengo | AFP | Getty Images
A man surveys a house that was washed away by heavy surf during the passing of Hurricane Maria in Manati, Puerto Rico on October 6, 2017.

Trump's comments came hours before Hurricane Florence was expected to hammer the Carolina coast.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said "there is no reason to dispute" the official death toll when asked about Trump's tweet by reporters Thursday morning.

"This was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island and that's really no one's fault," Ryan added.

New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, however, blasted Trump on Twitter, saying his "botched response" to the hurricanes was to blame for the thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico.

Trump had visited Puerto Rico shortly after Maria's devastation in October. He had been told on that trip by a Puerto Rican official that 16 deaths had been confirmed from the hurricane.

The death count was later raised to 64, which drew intense scrutiny from critics for being a severe underestimate of the total number.

WATCH: Puerto Rico's long road to recovery