Trump’s FEMA Chief Under Investigation Over Use of Official Cars

President Donald Trump, left, listens to a reporters question as FEMA Administrator Brock Long, center, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, right, listen during a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The official overseeing the federal response to Hurricane Florence is also reportedly the target of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general over his alleged misuse of government vehicles for private use.

First reported in Politico on Thursday, FEMA Administrator Brock Long allegedly used the cars for personal commuting from his home in Hickory, North Carolina to Washington, D.C. on the weekends.

Attention to Brock’s use of the government vehicles was only spurred after one of the cars was involved in an accident, according to “current and former administration” officials cited in the article.

During a briefing on FEMA’s response to Hurricane Florence on Thursday, Long declined to discuss the allegations, saying that for the time being, he is only focused on bracing for Hurricane Florence’s impact.

“That’s exactly where our attention needs to be from the standpoint of the life safety missions,” he said.

Later in the briefing, Long said if he did “make mistakes,” he would be willing to comply with the Office of the Inspector General in order to resolve any issues.

“Doing something unethical is not part of my DNA and it’s not part of my track record in my whole entire career,” he said Thursday.

Before becoming administrator of FEMA, Long served as the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

The inspector general’s investigation is also said to include inquiries over Long’s spending on hotel rooms reserved for his driver and those aides who accompanied him on his jaunts home.

The Department of Homeland Security requires the administrator to have at least one “contingency aide” to accompany him in the event of a national emergency. Agency officials must also obtain authorization before using government vehicles for private use.

Recent cut backs to FEMA have reduced the use of a contingency teams and according to Politico, the administrator now flies to North Carolina or drives himself.

The Office of the Inspector General did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The report comes a day after the Trump administration was forced to respond to claims nearly $10 million from the government’s disaster relief agency was transferred to immigration enforcement.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, claimed the administration took $9.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “response and recovery” and put it in the coffers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He based his claim on a 39-page Department of Homeland Security transfer and reprogramming report dated Aug. 31.

The report shows that funds came from FEMA’s “operations and support” budget and went to fund ICE functions including detention beds and transportation and removals. DHS officials said the account supports FEMA headquarters operational expenses and cannot be used for disaster response. It came in under budget for expenses including travel, training and office supplies and money was moved.

The claim sparked an emphatic denial from Homeland Security Department, which said the impact on FEMA’s response and recovery efforts was zero. The agency’s budget is more than $15 billion.

claim, which came as a monster hurricane barreled toward the Carolinas, was quickly branded by Homeland Security as “a sorry attempt to push a false agenda.”

“Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from FEMA to immigration enforcement efforts,” DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said. “This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”

According to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office, Homeland Security notified Congress on June 30 that it would transfer $200 million from other agencies to ICE, including the funds from FEMA. Leahy, a Democrat who is the Senate Appropriations Committee vice chairman, said the transfer was approved by the subcommittee chairs and no Democrats signed off on it.

At a news conference at FEMA’s Washington headquarters about the impending hurricane, officials said the agency was properly funded and prepared, and it was most important to focus on the upcoming storm, which could do catastrophic damage.

“We have plenty of resources both monetary, staff and commodities to respond to the dangerous storm that is Hurricane Florence,” said administrator Jeff Byard. “Right now we want to focus on those impacts from Florence and what can our citizens do today, which is the last good day to evacuate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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