weather icon Clear

Cellphones demanded in Puerto Rico as political crisis deepens

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A Puerto Rico judge issued search warrants for the cellphones of government officials involved in a crude online chat whose leak has set off a political crisis that threatens to bring down the U.S. territory’s governor.

Kelvin Carrasco, a spokesman for the island’s Justice Department, said Tuesday that the warrants were approved overnight and issued to those who had yet to turn over their phones. He did not identify the officials and would not comment further.

While he didn’t say what is being investigated, the warrants raise the possibility that some of the 12 men in the chat, including former and current government officials, could face legal trouble, deepening the crisis around Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

For the past week and a half, protesters have taken to the streets in Puerto Rico’s biggest wave of demonstrations in at least 15 years, demanding the governor step down in a crisis set off by the release of an 889-page transcript showing Rosselló participating in an obscenity-laden chat with top advisers and at least one lobbyist.

“If the people want him to resign, his duty as governor is to resign because we’re the ones who choose,” said Alexander Ortiz, an 18-year-old university student from Gurabo.

The island’s main opposition party and others have accused the chat participants of legal and ethical violations, including intervening in policy matters when they were not authorized to do so, and called on authorities to investigate.

The participants talked about politics and government contracts. They also insulted women and mocked constituents, including victims of Hurricane Maria. Rosselló called a female politician a “whore,” referred to another as a “daughter of a bitch,” and made fun of an obese man with whom he posed in a photo.

Conciliatory tone

Rosselló sounded a conciliatory note in a brief statement Tuesday.

“When one side speaks legitimately, the other has the responsibility to listen carefully,” he said. “The people are speaking and I have to listen. These have been moments of complete reflection and of taking decisions based on the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico and of their best interests.”

Rosselló said that from now on, he will talk only about government-related matters.

Those who said they turned over their cellphones as requested by justice officials last week include Chief of Staff Ricardo Llerandi; a former legal adviser to the governor, Alfonso Orona; and former Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario.

The leaked chat has intensified long-smoldering anger over government corruption and mismanagement that many blame for a 13-year recession and a severe debt crisis that has led to pension cuts and school closings. Many are also resentful over Puerto Rico’s slow recovery from Maria, which devastated the island nearly two years ago and led to thousands of deaths.

Police, protesters clash

As the search warrants were being approved, a small group of protesters clashed with police overnight, and a tear gas canister set a car on fire in the old colonial section of Puerto Rico’s capital where the governor’s mansion is situated.

The protests have escalated to a point where many wonder how Rosselló will be able to govern.

Rosselló dug his heels in late Monday, telling Fox News that he has already apologized and made amends following the leak of the chat. But many Puerto Ricans vowed to keep protesting until he steps down, no matter how long it takes.

“We can endure anything,” said Francisco Javier Díaz, a 30-year-old chemical engineer from the mountain town of Corozal. “We have the power and the resilience. And the truth is, we’re fed up.”

When pressed during the Fox News interview about who still supported him, Rosselló stumbled to provide a name until he finally settled on someone.

Almost no support

“The mayor of San Sebastián,” he said, referring to a tiny town in western Puerto Rico. Hours later, San Sebastián Mayor Javier Jiménez issued a noncommittal statement noting that governors can be impeached.

Puerto Rican track star and Olympic bronze medalist Javier Culson joined the chorus of those demanding Rosselló’s resignation.

“Today, my daughter and her relatives are leaving to seek a better future in another country. Because they don’t have opportunities here,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “We all deserve peace and tranquility and political leaders with the highest values of integrity and commitment to service. … For the good of our society and our children, pass the baton, Ricardo Rosselló.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Sanders’ $16T climate plan builds on Green New Deal

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has released a $16.3 trillion climate plan that builds on the Green New Deal and calls for the U.S. to move to renewable energy across the economy by 2050.

As Trump questions loyalty of US Jews, Netanyahu silent

Yuval Steinitz, a Cabinet minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party who is close to the prime minister, dismissed it as internal U.S. politics.