Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire federal employees who publicly contradicted President Donald Trump's incorrect statements that Hurricane Dorian might strike Alabama, according to a report Monday in The New York Times.
The threat led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to release an unsigned statement on Friday disavowing the National Weather Service's forecast that Alabama would not be impacted by the storm, the Times reported.
The National Weather Service is a part of NOAA, an agency of scientists that is a division of the Commerce Department.
Now, the Commerce Department's inspector general is examining NOAA's Friday statement, and employees have been directed to preserve their files, the Times reported. Inspector general Peggy E. Gustafson, in a message seeking documents, wrote to NOAA staff members that the National Weather Service "must maintain standards of scientific integrity."
She added that the circumstances of the statement appear to “call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency.”
A Commerce Department spokesman disputed the Times story, saying in a statement, “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian."
In response to the Times report, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “What started as an embarrassment from the president has snowballed into thuggish behavior from a Cabinet secretary to force scientists to bow down in obeisance to an anti-science president."
The weather drama kicked off more than a week ago when Dorian, which at times was a Category 5 storm, was threatening the Bahamas and Florida. Trump wrote then on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.”
The National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, tweeted a few minutes later: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
Then on Sept. 4, while speaking about the impending storm, Trump displayed a NOAA map that appeared to have been altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama in the area potentially impacted by Dorian.
Ultimately, the storm struck Bermuda before moving up the Southeast U.S. coast. Alabama was not hit.
NOAA, in response to Ross' demands to fix the perception that the weather agency was contradicting Trump, then issued a statement last Friday calling the Birmingham weather service statement “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time," the Times said.
With Laura Figueroa