On Wednesday, committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seeking more information about allegations that he pressured the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to back Trump’s Sept. 1 warning that Alabama could be seriously impacted by the hurricane.
“As this story unfolds in the press, a number of actions stand out as a troubling politicization of crucial weather information,” Johnson wrote in the letter, co-signed by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), chairwoman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Ross to have his subordinates at NOAA corroborate the president’s claims, according to a New York Times report on Wednesday.
The Times previously reported that Ross had threatened to fire NOAA staff last Friday after the Birmingham, Alabama, office of the National Weather Service, which is a division of NOAA, tweeted that the state “will NOT see any impacts” from Dorian. The latter tweet was posted Sept. 1 not long after Trump’s claim about the hurricane’s threat to Alabama.
Later Friday afternoon, NOAA issued an unattributed statement asserting that the Birmingham office misspoke in its tweet contradicting the president.
In a statement to the Times, a Commerce Department spokesman denied that Ross had threatened to fire “any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.”
The House committee’s investigation will seek to determine whether any employees in either the Commerce Department or the Executive Office of the President directed NOAA to corroborate the president’s false claims. The chairwomen’s letter requested all answers and related documents from the Commerce Department no later than Sept. 20.
The committee is also asking for information from the Commerce Department’s inspector general, Peggy Gustafson, regarding her own investigation into the matter.
Gustafson reportedly wrote NOAA employees on Sept. 6 that the National Weather Service “must maintain standards of scientific integrity” and that allegations of outside interference threaten the agency’s “scientific influence.”