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Calls for Wilbur Ross’ Resignation Rain Down Amid Report He Threatened NOAA Firings


Calls for Wilbur Ross’s resignation intensified Monday following a New York Times report that the Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Donald Trump’s incorrect claim that Alabama was going to be hit by Hurricane Dorian.

Ross reportedly phoned NOAA acting administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs from Greece on Friday and instructed Jacobs to “fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president,” three people familiar with the interaction told the Times. According to the report, after Jacobs objected to Ross’s demand, he was told that NOAA’s politically appointed employees would all be fired if the situation was not rectified.

Professor Jennifer Taub, who teaches at Vermont Law School, responded to the report by tweeting, “Secretary Ross, it’s time to resign!”

That sentiment was echoed by attorney and Trump nemesis George Conway, husband to presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway. Conway who quote tweeted Taub’s statement under the heading “Absolutely.”

Others expressed similar sentiments.

Still others quipped that they didn’t anticipate Ross making an “appearance in this episode.”

Rick Hasen, a professor of Law and Political Science at UC Irvine also weighed in on Ross’s reported intervention, writing, “Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Who Lied About His Reason for Including A Citizenship Question on the Census, Pressured NOAA Officials on Trump Misstatement about Alabama Hurricane.”

The controversy began with Trump’s September 1, tweet which said that Alabama was “most likely to be hit much harder than anticipated.” That was corrected by the National Weather Service’s Alabama division, which tweeted: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from [Hurricane Dorian]. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane [Hurricane Dorian] will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

Despite his false assertion being publicly corrected, Trump persistently argued that his initial claim was true, even going so far as to display a National Hurricane Center map of the storm’s predicted path which had apparently been altered with a black sharpie marker to include Alabama in its trajectory.

Ross’s reported threat to fire NOAA employees came five days after Trump’s tweet, and immediately preceded the agency’s release of a controversial unsigned statement vindicating the president’s incorrect forecast.

“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama. This is clearly demonstrated in Hurricane Advisories #15 through #41,” the statement said last Friday.

As Law&Crime reported earlier Monday, NOAA’s acting chief scientist Craig McLean on Sunday announced that he was opening an investigation into the agency’s unsigned statement backing Trump’s false assertion.

McLean’s email to NOAA employees Sunday made clear that the acting head of the agency believed the agency’s response was politically motivated and antithetical to its mission.

“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” McLean wrote. “There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press release from ‘NOAA’ that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster. My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.”

A Department of Commerce spokesperson told Law&Crime on Monday that the New York Times report was not true.

“The New York Times story is false,” the spokesperson said. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.”

Editor’s note: this story was updated after publication to add a statement from a Commerce spokesperson.

[Image via Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.