WASHINGTON (AP) – A government watchdog said the Commerce Department was trying to block the findings of an investigation into the agency’s role in the reprimand of forecasters who contradicted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claims about the Hurricane Dorian’s trajectory last year.
The accusation comes from Peggy Gustafson, the Inspector General of the Commerce Department, who wrote a note expressing his “deep concern” that the publication of the report was blocked.
It was the latest turning point in a saga that led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to chastise government forecasters who contradicted the president after publishing inaccurate information about the path of the hurricane in the southern United States .
Trump then posted a modified Sharpie forecast map in the Oval Office to defend his inaccurate tweet.
Gustafson, in a note to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross released by his office on Wednesday evening, said the department was using “amorphous and generalized” allegations to try to exclude the publication of certain documents in the report.
“The final publication of our assessment was delayed, thwarted and effectively (stopped) by the Department’s refusal to identify specific areas of privilege,” wrote Gustafson, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Commerce officials said on Thursday in an Associated Press response that the department “does not prevent the office of the Inspector General from publishing the report in whatever form the office of the Inspector General considers appropriate “
Lawyers for Commerce and NOAA said the report in its current form could affect future negotiations between agencies and the office of the Inspector General and that it contained inside information.
Gustafson’s note said communications with representatives from Commerce and NOAA were collegial throughout the investigation, but changed after his office submitted the final report for consideration of privileges.
“This change in tone seems to be directly related to the content of our report and the findings of responsibility of those involved at a high level,” wrote Gustafson. “I am concerned that the substance of our report and our conclusions has resulted in this attitude of reprisal.”
The full investigation was to be released next Monday. Gustafson said she had given Commerce and NOAA until Thursday to provide “precise and unambiguous markings of the proposed deletions for the specified privileges.”
The senses. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, told Ross in a joint letter that they expect Commerce employees to “cooperate fully and help the OIG (Office of the ‘Inspector General) in all investigative matters’ and’ all efforts to overthrow or suffocate the OIG go directly in disregard of the powers granted to the Inspector General by Congress. “
A brief summary of the investigation released last week found that the Commerce Department conducted a “flawed process” that led NOAA to issue the statement which improperly berated forecasters from the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, for a tweet that said, “Alabama will not see any impact from #Dorian. “
The investigation was spurred on by a series of events that began when Trump made comments on Twitter and in the Oval Office that were out of step with official government forecasts.
As the storm approached the United States, Trump tweeted that Alabama, as well as the Carolinas and Georgia, “will likely be hit (much) harder than expected”, although the National Hurricane Center has indicated that Dorian does not not hit Alabama.
Twenty minutes after Trump’s tweet, meteorologists from the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office sent the tweet. NOAA issued a statement reprimanding the tweet from the Birmingham weather office.