Puerto Rico governor defies calls to resign despite protests

San Juan, P.R. — Defying growing calls for his immediate resignation, Puerto Rico’s beleaguered Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Tuesday vowed to remain in office and bring more transparency and accountability to the Puerto Rican government. In recent days, his office has been rocked by high-profile corruption arrests and escalating protests over the revelation of vulgar and inappropriate private messages between the governor and his staff.

A political crisis has swept the Caribbean island — home to approximately 3.2 million U.S. citizens — since a non-profit journalism group, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, published a trove of messages in which Rosselló and his top lieutenants mocked political opponents, talked about retaliating against journalists and made sexist and homophobic remarks. The scandal prompted the resignation of several officials in the messaging group, including his secretary of state and chief financial officer, but the governor has tried to quell the fallout and save his political career.

Protesters call for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s ouster outside his official residence in the heart of San Juan. LUIS ALCALA DEL OLMO / AP

During his first press conference since the crude messages were leaked, Rosselló said that after days of introspection, he had determined that it was in the best interest of the island for him to continue in his role.

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“I’m not proud of what I did,” he told reporters at his official residence in the capital on Wednesday when asked about the leaked messages by CBS News. “Those were merely comments — but they were hurtful comments. So, I apologize for what I’ve done but again, I need to move forward and continue on the work we’re doing for Puerto Rico.”

Pressed about the leaked messages, dubbed #Telegramgate by Puerto Ricans in reference to the app used by the group, Rosselló cited a legal analysis that supposedly determined that they did not contain evidence of any criminal act. “I did not commit illegal acts or ones of corruption. I did commit inappropriate acts,” he told reporters.

He would not say who conducted the analysis and demurred when asked by CBS News if the findings of the internal probe would be released.

The embattled governor stressed he was committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of his detractors — who in recent days have surrounded Rosselló’s residence, La Fortaleza, to call for his ouster and clashed with police. On Monday night, police equipped with riot gear used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd outside La Fortaleza. But the governor urged the protesters to not turn to violence.

Rosselló also strongly denied that either he or his wife were were being investigated by federal authorities conducting a sweeping corruption probe on the island. Last week, the FBI arrested two former agency directors in Rosselló’s administration and accused them of illegally diverting federal funds to political consultants.

The White House on Tuesday said the political crisis vindicated President Trump’s repeated accusations that the Puerto Rican government is corrupt.

“The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “We remain committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse.”

During the press conference, Rosselló, who has sparred with Mr. Trump repeatedly over Washington’s handling of recovery efforts in the aftermath of the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, responded to the White House’s statement by saying corruption is a social “ill” rampant in both government and the private sector. He vowed to combat it during the remainder of his tenure.

“I just hope we can have a serious conversation about what we’re doing to battle it as opposed to pointing fingers,” he said.

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