President Donald Trump denied that his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was acting on his orders when Mulvaney reportedly directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to pressure a federal agency to rebuke scientists who had contradicted Trump’s hurricane claims.
“No, I never did that — I never did that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday, dismissing the entire scandal as “a hoax by the fake news media.”
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“When they talk about the hurricane and when they talk about Florida and Alabama, that is just fake news,” the president went on. “Right from the beginning, it was a fake story.”
The so-called fake news emanated first from Trump’s own Twitter account, when on Sept. 1 he warned that Alabama was among the states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” a claim that was misleading based on the forecasted path of the storm at that time.
The National Weather Service in Birmingham quickly countered his assertion on social media, writing that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
But recent reports in the press suggest the Trump administration took pains to minimize Trump’s inaccurate assertions, and Trump himself kept the spotlight on a gaffe that might have easily just blown over. And on Wednesday, House Democrats piled on when they announced an investigation into reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had come under pressure by Ross to issue a statement disavowing the NWS Birmingham tweet.
Democrats on the House Science Committee and its oversight subcommittee on Wednesday demanded the White House and Commerce Department turn over any documents relating to an unattributed Sept. 6 statement put out by NOAA in which the agency chastised NWS Birmingham for speaking “in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
They also asked for information regarding an agency-wide directive put out in the wake of Trump’s tweet urging employees not to contradict the president.
Both NOAA missives sparked backlash within the science community, which warned of the dangers of politicizing weather forecasts and jeopardizing the credibility of its forecasters.
And the president apparently stewed on the subject for almost a week, at one point displaying a map to reporters that had been altered with a Sharpie to show Alabama in the hurricane’s path, tweeting and retweeting numerous outdated maps purported to support his claims.
But The New York Times reported this week hat top officials within the administration took more concrete steps to back Trump up. On Monday, the paper reported that after initially being rebuffed, Ross threatened firings at NOAA if the agency’s acting administrator did not work to fix the perception that NOAA was contradicting Trump. And earlier Wednesday, the Times reported that Mulvaney directed Ross to enact that pressure.
“As this story unfolds in the press, a number of actions stand out as a troubling politicization of crucial weather information,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that they are “deeply disturbed by the politicization of NOAA’s weather forecast activities for the purpose of supporting incorrect statements by the president.”
House Science Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) gave Ross until Sept. 20 to come up with the information and documents requested, arguing that it is “essential” that the forecasts produced by the federal government “remain free of political influence and suppression.”