UPDATE, 11:57pm: At approximately 11:45 on Wednesday night, after it was announced that Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives intended to convene on Thursday afternoon to begin impeachment deliberations, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in a statement apparently pre-recorded earlier in the day, announced that he would give into the demands of both lawmakers and the public and resign from office on August 2, at 5pm. He asked for the public to support his designated successor, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez.
“During the past few days many of you have been exercising your right to freedom of expression. The claim has been blunt and I have received it with the highest degree of humility,” he said.
Rosselló neither referenced nor apologized for the scandals that had brought him to this end.
Puerto Rico’s scandal-plagued governor Ricardo Rosselló will now face impeachment after refusing to offer his resignation on Wednesday, according to a report from El Nuevo Dia (ENDI). The governor was given an ultimatum to resign or face the threat of being ousted by the island territory’s speaker of the House.
Earlier this week, Rosselló vowed to hold onto power, but stepped down as leader of the New Progressive Party (PNP) and pledged not to run for another term. This all comes after days of protests on the streets of San Juan, in which Puerto Ricans turned out in massive numbers, demanding Rosselló’s ouster.
Members of Rosselló’s party issued an ultimatum on Wednesday — resign or be impeached. According to reports, Rep. Jose Melendez, an at-large member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, warned early this morning, “The [impeachment] report is in the Capitol building. At any moment we will have it in our hands. As soon as we receive it, if there are illegal acts in the chats, we will begin impeachment unless the governor resigns beforehand.”
Puerto Rico’s speaker of the House, Carlos “Johnny” Mendez later confirmed to reporters that the House would begin proceedings to remove the governor unless he had offered his resignation by the end of the day.
This, Rosselló failed to do by the appointed deadline. Scenes in La Fortaleza, the official San Juan residence of the governor became farcical late in the afternoon, as reporters were hurriedly herded into what they thought would be an impending press conference in which Rosselló would reveal his intentions, only to be stalled for hours as press officers steadfastly refused to provide information. In the end, the assembled reporters were informed that the governor would be making a formal announcement at a later hour.
The most telling sign that the Puerto Rico Governor is inside the mansion right now may be this: his dogs were just let out to handle their business. pic.twitter.com/9CwCnjf9aZ
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 24, 2019
But as ENDI reported, Mendez made good on his threat, and let it be known that Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives would convene a special session on Thursday afternoon to immediately take up the matter of impeaching the governor.
BREAKING: Puerto Rico’s Governor had apparently agreed to resign today, but broke his word that he gave to legislators, so now the Speaker of the House of Representatives will make good on his word to impeach the Governor.https://t.co/n4lCUZdm4G
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 25, 2019
It was estimated that nearly 400,000 people participated in direct action to oust the governor — nearly one in every eight residents of the island.
Demands that Rossello step aside followed the July 13 publication of hundreds of leaked private chat logs between the governor and members of his inner circle that had been sent via the direct messaging app Telegram.
As ThinkProgress reported, the logs — obtained and distributed by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism — showed Rosselló and his political allies engaging in coordinated political attacks on opponents and using misogynistic and homophobic language to describe their critics. According to Vox, they also mocked the victims of Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating disasters ever to hit the island.
Rosselló has tried to explain away the remarks, saying they were the byproduct of long, stressful days that followed Hurricane Maria. He has remained in office while everyone else involved in the vulgar exercise resigned their posts.
The Telegram leaks were the proximate cause of the mass protests in San Juan over the past few days. But they also added accelerant to a fire that had been building for some time.
On July 10, the Associated Press reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had arrested Puerto Rico’s former secretary of education Julia Keleher, along with five other individuals — including the territory’s former Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero, two businessmen, and a pair of education contractors — in a fraud scheme. The sextet is alleged to have illegally steered more than $15 million in federal funding “to unqualified, politically connected contractors.”
The case is likely a small part of a far larger money-skimming scheme, multiple sources have told ThinkProgress. People in the governor’s inner circle, including his former campaign manager and primary digital-media strategist, have been implicated in diversion-of-funds crimes dating to the transition period prior to Rosselló’s 2017 swearing-in.
While Rosselló has not yet been accused of directly participating in such frauds, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-AZ, who chairs the House National Resources Committee which oversees the U.S. territory, called for the governor’s resignation, citing the need for greater government accountability.
In the case of a gubernatorial resignation, the territory’s Constitution provides for power to be handed off to the Secretary of State. That position is currently vacant however, after the official who held the post, Luis G. Rivera Marín, resigned on July 16 after being swept up in Telegram affair. Should Rossello make an eleventh hour pledge to resign, and avoid impeachment, it would fall to Puerto Rico’s legislative assembly to elect a caretaker for the office.
Wednesday night, DNC Chair Tom Perez issued a statement: “It is impossible to govern without public confidence. Through his inexcusable actions, Governor Rosselló lost the trust of his people and his ability to govern effectively. Puerto Rico is still in crisis and it can’t afford any setbacks in rebuilding the island. The people of Puerto Rico have made their voices heard. It’s time for Governor Rosselló to heed their calls and resign.”
Alan Pyke contributed reporting. This is a breaking news story and has been updated as new information has become available.