WASHINGTON – The White House was directly involved in pushing a federal scientific body to reject the weather forecasts that contradicted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian would probably hit Alabama, according to several people familiar with the incident.
Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff at the White House, told Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would publicly reject the forecast's position that Alabama was not in danger. NOAA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, issued an unsigned statement last Friday in response, saying that the Birmingham, Ala., Agency was wrong to contest the president's warning.
The release of the NOAA statement raised complaints that the Trump administration erroneously interfered with the professional weather forecasting system to justify the president's erroneous claim. The Department of Commerce's Inspector General is investigating how this statement came out and says it could question scientific independence.
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, controlled by the Democrats, announced on Wednesday that it has also initiated an investigation into Ross's actions.
The White House had no immediate comment on Wednesday, but the administrative official said Mulvaney was interested in getting the record corrected because, in his opinion, Birmingham had gone too far and the president was right to suggest that there had been forecasts showing potential effects on Alabama.
Mr. Trump was furious at being contradicted by forecasters in Alabama. On September 1, President wrote on Twitter that Alabama "is likely to be (much) harder than expected." A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham posted on Twitter that “Alabama will not see any effects from Dorian. We reiterate that no effects from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. "
For nearly a week, Trump claimed he was right, showing outdated maps, including one that had apparently been modified with a Sharpie pen to make it look like Alabama might be in the path of the storm. He got his homeland security adviser to release a statement supporting him.
Mr. Ross called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency's perceived contradiction of the president, according to three people who were informed of the discussions.
Dr. Jacobs opposed the claim and was told that the political appointees at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they did not have the authority to discuss the section.
Political staff at an agency usually include a handful of top officials, such as Dr. Jacobs, and their assistants. They are appointed to their jobs by current power, unlike career government employees, who remain in their jobs when administrations come and go.
The statement finally issued by NOAA later on Friday called the Birmingham office's statement "inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecasting products available at that time."
Dr. Jacobs has since sought to reassure his workforce and wider scientific community. who are concerned about political interference.
"This administration is committed to the important mission of the weather forecast," Dr. Jacobs told a weather conference in Huntsville, Ala., on Tuesday. "There is no pressure to change how you communicates or predicts risk in the future. "
In the speech, Dr. Jacobs praised Mr. Trump, calling him" genuinely interested in improving weather forecasts, "echoing the president's position that Dorian was originally threatening Alabama." At one point, Alabama was in the mix , like the rest of the Southeast. ”
He also said he still had faith in the Birmingham office. "The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the technical aspects of the potential effects of Dorian," Dr. Jacobs. "What it doesn't say, though, is that we understand and fully support the good intentions of Birmingham's weather forecasting office, which was to calm fears of supporting public safety."