President Donald Trump alleged Tuesday that billions of dollars in federal aid to Baltimore has been “wasted” and “stolen," renewing his days-long criticism of the city and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Trump spoke to reporters as he prepared to leave the White House en route to a historical commemoration in Jamestown, Virginia, and again when he returned to Washington.
“I’m pointing out the tremendous corruption that’s taken place in Baltimore and other Democrat-run cities,” the Republican president said. “All you have to do is look at the past mayors in Baltimore to see what happened.”
Trump offered no evidence to back up his claim, and a spokesman for Democratic Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young said the president was incorrect.
“We know that this president often does not rely on the truth, so we’re not going to dignify nonsense with a response,” said Young spokesman Lester Davis. "It’s just patently false.”
Trump said he’s getting positive feedback for his remarks about Baltimore, which he started Saturday on Twitter.
“People living in Baltimore are very happy that I’m bringing out the fact that it’s like living in hell,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
Trump initially alleged Tuesday that “billions and billions” of money has been wasted and stolen in Baltimore. Later in the day, Trump said “somebody said $15 billion over a short period of time” has gone to Baltimore and there’s little to show for it.
The president offered no evidence of misspending or misappropriation of federal aid in Baltimore or Maryland.
Trump, speaking in the afternoon, attempted to tie Cummings to Pugh and Dixon, though he didn’t cite them by name.
“He’s seen these mayors get thrown out, thrown out, thrown out, thrown out. They’re all friends of his,” the president told reporters.
Trump both laid blame for the supposed misspending on Cummings and suggested the Democratic congressman should use the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which Cummings chairs, to investigate Baltimore.
“It’s been misspent. It’s missing. It’s been stolen with a lot of corrupt government. And as you know, Cummings has been in charge,” Trump said. “Now, I will say this: I think that Representative Cummings should take his oversight committee and start doing oversight on Baltimore. He’d find out some real things.”
Over the last five years, Baltimore has received $903 million in federal grants for operating and capital expenses, according to city budget documents. Over the same period, the federal government also provided $1.1 billion to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, according to USASpending.gov.
Cummings’ more expansive congressional district received just under $15.7 billion in grants, benefits and contracts from the federal government over the past two fiscal years, according to the federal government website. The district includes parts of the city of Baltimore, as well as areas of the counties of Baltimore and Howard.
But federal inspectors general have not flagged billions of dollars in fraud and waste.
In 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered the city to repay nearly $4 million of a homeless services grant, saying the city could not account for the how the money was spent sufficiently.
Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming questioned Trump’s vague assessment of purported fraud and waste.
Since 2005, the city’s inspector general’s office has recovered less than $10 million in money associated with waste and fraud of city funds, according to annual reports. Cumming, who started in 2018, said a single case contributed nearly $7 million to that total.
She noted Trump has not filled several key inspector general positions in his administration and has not followed recommendations by other federal IGs for rooting out waste and fraud that would result in addressing billions of dollars in waste.
“The government could potentially save $45 billion if agencies implemented the roughly 10,000 recommendations made by IGs,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire wrote last month to the president.
They implored Trump to fill the positions that “provide a vital service to the American taxpayer by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse of federal funds."
Trump said Tuesday that he’s gotten feedback from Baltimore residents who have thanked him for speaking out. He said “the ones that like it the best" are African American residents.
“People have called from Baltimore thanking me so much because all that money … has been stolen and wasted,” Trump said. “They’re so happy that I pointed out the corrupt politics of Baltimore. It’s filthy, dirty, it’s so horrible and they are happy as hell."
The president also said he feels “so sorry for the people of Baltimore.”
Asked if he would visit Baltimore, Trump said: “At the right time, I’ll visit.”
Trump fired back against critics who call his comments about Cummings and his district racist by touting the low unemployment rate for African American workers, the creation of federal “opportunity zones” to spur investment in poor communities and his efforts at criminal justice reform.
Trump has been blasting Baltimore and Cummings mostly on Twitter. The president has called the 7th congressional district “disgusting, rat and rodent infested.” The president also said “no human being would want to live there.”
Cummings has stoked Trump’s ire because his House committee has been investigating the president on multiple fronts. The congressman also recently said the president is racist.
Adam Sheingate, chairman of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said the president is attempting to tap into assumed racial prejudices of many white, working-class voters.
“Frequently racial resentment is expressed in the belief that tax dollars take money from hardworking, white Americans to pay for welfare programs that largely benefit nonwhites living in cities,” Sheingate said. “Trump’s attacks on Baltimore deliberately tap into this sentiment because it confirms the prejudices of his base.
“Whether this proves to be a successful electoral strategy remains to be seen,” he added.
Trump said he had no strategy behind his criticism of Cummings and Baltimore.
“There’s zero strategy,” he said. “All it is, is that I’m pointing out facts.”
Cummings has not spoken publicly since the president began his attacks except for some statements posted on Twitter. In response to an interview request from The Baltimore Sun, Cummings’ office pointed to the congressman’s tweets Monday about meeting young people in a summer bioscience program at the University of Maryland.
“I am fueled by these smart and energized young people and I will continue to do every day what I am duty-bounded to do — help my constituents to live their best lives and serve as a check on the Executive Branch,” Cummings tweeted.