Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tangled with Fox News anchor Shepard Smith on Monday during his first one-on-one interview since scandal engulfed his governorship more than a week ago.
Smith did not hold back on Rosselló during a testy 15-minute interview, during which he challenged the governor on his decision not to step down following the release of a cache of leaked chats that made light of hurricane victims and included misogynistic and homophobic comments.
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The leaks were just one headache for Rosselló, as the island territory has seen a string of government officials arrested on federal corruption charges and is shouldering massive debt and a recession and is subject to federal oversight. And it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island in 2017, killing thousands and leaving devastation in its wake.
Protesters on the island have taken to the streets every day for the last 10 days to demand Rosselló’s resignation, with crowds estimated in the tens of thousands shutting down a highway there Monday.
Rosselló said he was ditching his reelection plans to “focus on the job at hand,” outlining anti-corruption proposals after going through “a process of introspection.” But Smith was adamant in challenging Rosselló on his track record of leadership on the island, questioning whether the governor could effectively lead after the events of the last few weeks.
“Attacks on women, attacks on gays, attacks on the dead relatives of your own residents across your own island and after all that, who’s left to support you? Is it even safe for you to continue to attempt to govern?” he asked.
Smith repeatedly cut Rosselló off as he dodged questions, offering platitudes and apologies.
“Well again I’ve apologized for all that,” the governor said of the text leaks. “I am making amends for all those efforts —”
“You’ve apologized for what?” Smith pressed.
“For all of the comments that I made on the chat. And that is one thing. There is another effort that needs to move forward which is the battling of corruption,” Rosselló said, before being cut off again.
“The corruption was in your own administration,” Smith interjected. “Five people who were on those chats, you got rid of all of them, they are now out of the government but you remain. Doesn’t the buck stop with your office governor?”
Rosselló conceded the point, though he added: “I was elected by the people of Puerto Rico.”
“And those people are on the streets of your biggest city today saying, ‘We want you out,’” Smith replied.
At one point in the exchange, Rosselló struggled as Smith pushed him to name just one person on the island who had come forward in his defense. He finally named a local mayor, Javier Jiménez of San Sebastián. But CBS News reported that Jiménez denied supporting Rosselló.
Smith pointed to the sheer size of the demonstrations in Puerto Rico’s capital city and noted that it ranked among the island’s largest ever. He asked Rosselló, who kept saying that he “heard” his constituents’ complaints, to expand on what he was hearing from protesters.
“We’ve heard that there is obviously disappointment,” Rosselló responded.
“That’s not what I’ve heard, governor, with great respect. I’ve not heard that there’s disappointment,” Smith countered. “I’ve heard numerous Puerto Ricans saying you’ve disrespected them, that you’ve not led them properly, you made fun of them, that you made light of them. They no longer trust in your leadership.”
Rosselló’s plight has attracted President Donald Trump’s attention. A frequent critic of how the island has handled its long recovery from Hurricane Maria and of the local government’s financial mismanagement, Trump said Monday that Rosselló had “done a terrible job.”
But Rosselló remained defiant in the face of pressure to step down, saying that “there is an important component about rule of law and I respect that process,” and pledging to right the wrongs of his administration.
He ended the interview by arguing that “from my perspective, I am fully committed [to] battling corruption here in Puerto Rico, and that will be the focus from the remaining of my administration.”
Smith then threw to commercial, wishing “the best to the people of Puerto Rico.”