Puerto Rico officials tied to online chat ordered to surrender cellphones

/ CBS/AP

Police and protesters clash in Puerto Rico

A Puerto Rico judge has issued search warrants for the cellphones of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and 11 other government officials tied to an online chat that has sparked an escalating political crisis in the U.S. territory, CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reports. News of the warrants was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

BREAKING: Puerto Rico’s Governor, and 11 others, have been served with a search warrant ordering their cell phones be surrendered as part of an investigation – being done by the islands dept of justice – into the Telegram chat scandal, AKA: #RickyChats pic.twitter.com/kb8bhetnDO

— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 23, 2019

Kelvin Carrasco, a spokesman for the island's Department of Justice, told The Associated Press that the warrants were approved overnight and were issued to those who have not yet turned over their phones. He did not name the officials and declined further comment because the investigation is ongoing.

The warrants were issued following massive, ongoing protests demanding the ouster of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who participated in an offensive, obscenity-laden online chat between him and his advisers whose leak triggered the crisis. The group also insulted women and mocked constituents, including victims of Hurricane Maria.

Late Monday night, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who remained on the streets of Old San Juan, and there were scattered violent incidents.

It’s 12:16am, in Puerto Rico and WAPA TV has a live feed showing motorcyclists who are heading for Old San Juan. Protests have been ongoing for the last 16 hours straight. It only got ugly within the last hour. pic.twitter.com/QZMU3Vmn6Q

— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 23, 2019

The protests have escalated to a point where many wonder how Rosselló will be able to govern the U.S. territory in the coming days and possibly weeks.

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Rosselló dug his heels in late Monday after what seems to have been the biggest protest the island has seen in nearly two decades, 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 central mountain town of Corozal. "We have the power and the resilience. And the truth is, we're fed up."

Tuesday marked the 11th consecutive day of protests as government officials around Rosselló keep resigning. Even his own father, former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, stepped down from positions within the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and disaffiliated himself from it in a blow to party members.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Rosselló said he will not resign, noting that he already announced he would not seek re-election in 2020 and that he has stepped down as president of his party.

"That way, I can focus on the job at hand," he said, referring in part to fighting corruption and overseeing recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 storm that hit Sept. 20, 2017, caused more than $100 billion in damage, threw Puerto Rico into a yearlong blackout and left thousands dead, most of them succumbing during the sweltering aftermath.

The island has also seen a recent string of arrests of officials on federal corruption charges, including former Education Secretary Julia Keleher.

Michelle De La Cruz, a spokeswoman for Rosselló, said he was not available for further comment.

Asked who was advising Rosselló on staying in office, Rosselló's secretary of public affairs, Anthony Maceira, said the governor was speaking with his family, and "that carries a great weight." Rosselló's father was governor from 1993 to 2001.

Some Puerto Ricans have accepted that Rosselló will not resign and say they instead will put pressure on legislators to impeach him.

"They have that power in their hands," said Normarie Matos, a 43-year-old financial manager from San Juan. "People are no longer afraid."

The leaked chat has intensified long-smoldering anger on the island over ongoing corruption and mismanagement by the island's two main political parties that many blame for a 13-year recession and a severe debt crisis that has led to austerity measures, including pension cuts.

"We don't want future generations to suffer what we have suffered," said Tania García, a 25-year-old engineer from the eastern town of Juncos who vowed to keep protesting. "This is only going to get stronger day by day."

The protests are the largest on the territory since Puerto Ricans rallied to put an end to U.S. Navy training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago, and more protests are expected this week.

First published on July 23, 2019 / 11:08 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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