Maria Martinez and her hurricane-damaged house in eastern Puerto Rico, Sept....

Maria Martinez and her hurricane-damaged house in eastern Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.  Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Hector Retamal

The dead in a plot

President Donald Trump's record of false or misleading claims surged past the 5,000 mark after a bountiful burst of bogusness within the past week, according to a Washington Post fact-checking tally. But of all the untruths, few if any have appalled so many as a pair of tweets Thursday morning.

He had already denied anything was lacking in his "incredibly successful" response to Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico last year. Now he was discounting the officially recognized body count as a plot against him.

Said Trump: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. . . . This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible." He offered no evidence, and there isn't any.

Puerto Rico was slow to calculate Maria's toll because the breakdown of infrastructure was so widespread and prolonged. It's the same reason the death toll rose in slow motion, as the knockout of the power grid left the health care system in shambles. In August, a study from George Washington University commissioned by Puerto Rico's government estimated 2,975 died because of the hurricane in the four months after landfall. It was a conservative number — a Harvard study in May estimated 4,645.

Officials in Puerto Rico and Democrats in Washington condemned Trump's tweets. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat whose parents were from Puerto Rico, said the president is "delusional" and incapable of “empathy or basic human decency.”

Republicans edged away, including two Trump-endorsed candidates in Florida, whose Puerto Rican population swelled after Maria. Rep. Ron DeSantis, running for governor, "doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,” a spokesman said. Gov. Rick Scott, running for Senate, tweeted, “I disagree with @POTUS. . . . I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand.”

Miami-area Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring, was less restrained. Trump has a “warped mind," she said. "He’s casting doubt on the death count and making it about himself?"  For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

Why does he do this?

Anti-Trump Twitter had a new epithet for him Thursday: "hurricane denier." It's an allusion, of course, to the Holocaust denial of neo-Nazis and others on the far right.

Even if not equivalent, there are parallels — Trump is dismissing an authoritative accounting about a massive loss of life and claiming nefarious motives are behind it.

Trump's patterns are  well-established. As The Associated Press recalled, it's just the latest in a long series of conspiracy theories he has promoted, and he would rather invent statistics to make himself look good than acknowledge genuine numbers  that could undercut him.

Above all, as The Washington Post notes, never, ever admit a mistake.

Janison: Trumped-up foes

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made Trump the top target of his attacks in his Democratic primary campaign, even though his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, was a Democrat on his ideological left.

How will that work in the general election against Republican Marc Molinaro? Cuomo's campaign has tried to paint him as an ultraconservative extremist. In reality, Molinaro is no Trump Republican — he says he didn't vote for him in 2016. But that could dampen enthusiasm from GOP fans of the president even if it gets him a look from voters open to an alternative to Cuomo.

As Newsday's Dan Janison notes in his column, the template for a low-key Republican to win New York is George Pataki's upset of Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994. 

Paul to be cast over Trump?

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has tentatively agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller to head off his upcoming trial, but it's unclear whether it includes an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, ABC News reported.

Manafort and his attorneys spent more than four hours Thursday in discussions with a team of special prosecutors who are involved in the ongoing investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the report said.

Shutdown stand-down?

Trump's recent threats to shut down the government before the November elections if he doesn't get funding for his Mexican border wall looked to be headed for his bluff pile on Thursday. 

The House followed the Senate in overwhelmingly approving a $147 billion package to fund the Energy Department, veterans' programs and the legislative branch, and Trump was expected to sign it. Legislative leaders also announced an agreement on a bill to fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7.

"We still are in favor of the wall, we still want to get funding for the wall, but we think the best time to have that discussion is after the election," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News last week. 

The potential need for billions of dollars for recovery from Hurricane Florence has made a shutdown even less politically attractive.

Speed bump for Kavanaugh

A Senate Judiciary Committee vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been delayed until next Thursday, but the panel's Democrats lost out in a procedural wrangle that could have put it off longer.

Time is all the Democrats have on their side as they keep digging for information that could stop Trump's nominee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee's top Democrat, said that she received information she wouldn't describe from a person about Kavanaugh and referred it to federal investigators.

The Washington Post said it concerned an alleged episode of sexual misconduct when Kavanaugh was in high school. But the FBI, saying it didn't plan to investigate, passed the material to the White House as an update to the judge's background check. For more, see Brune's story for Newsday.

What else is happening:

  • A federal judge ruled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos acted illegally when she blocked Obama-era protections for students defrauded by for-profit colleges from taking effect.
  • Former President George W. Bush is quietly coming to the aid of Republican candidates in places where Trump isn't popular, PBS reported.
  • J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon's rapid retreat from remarks Wednesday that he could beat Trump didn't spare him from a presidential tweet beatdown on Thursday. "The problem with banker Jamie Dimon running for President is that he doesn’t have the aptitude or 'smarts' & is a poor public speaker & nervous mess — otherwise he is wonderful," Trump said.
  • House Republicans rejected an attempt by Democrats to demand that the State Department turn over records related to Trump’s secretive one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • FEMA Administrator Brock Long is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general over whether he misused government vehicle commutes between North Carolina and Washington. Politico reported his travel habits got him on the wrong side of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.