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Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 16, 2019

Call Inspector Clouseau.

We have a break in the Sharpiegate case.

No, we haven’t placed the offending Sharpie responsible for pulling Hurricane Dorian hundreds of miles westward to affect areas in Alabama, but news this week did pin the explanation for all of it on political appointees of the White House. Ah, the cover-up, once again.

Admittedly, there is nothing here that competes with impeaching a president for crimes associated with withholding military aid in return for seeking foreign help with throwing dirt on a political opponent, but it is momentarily interesting, And, it shows how everything is political in this White House.

A letter from the chair of the House Science Committee to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shows that it was the Commerce Department, not the leadership of its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that drafted a controversial NOAA statement on Sept. 6 backing President Trump’s false statement about the path of Hurricane Dorian. That statement contradicted NOAA’s own meteorologists at a weather forecast office in Birmingham, Ala., according to The Washington Post.

The unsigned statement has generated at least three investigations, including one by the Science Committee, another by NOAA’s chief scientist, as well as the Commerce Department’s inspector general.

The new letter, from Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), contains previously unknown information about how that statement — which may have violated NOAA’s scientific integrity policy — was written. It says that the drafting process for the NOAA statement, which rebuked the Birmingham forecast office for speaking “in absolute terms,” was orchestrated by three of secretary Ross’s top deputies, including his chief of staff.

If you remember, Trump wrongly tweeted that Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” on Sept. 1 even when the state was not within the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty” — the zone most likely to be affected. The National Weather Service forecast office in Birmingham, responding to an influx of calls from worried residents in the wake of the president’s tweet, issued a tweet of its own saying Dorian would not affect Alabama.

At the time, the forecast guidance showed only a very small risk of tropical-storm-force winds for a small portion of Alabama.

Trump then presented a version of the forecast cone from Aug. 29, extended into Alabama — modified using a Sharpie. The crudely altered map appeared to represent an effort to retroactively justify the original Alabama tweet.

The president often uses a Sharpie and even praised the pens with the company, which responded by making a special version of the pen for the White House. Still, no one has ever directly put the forecast-altering pen in Trump’s fingers.

According to the letter, the faked explanation was passed on to the Science Committee by Neil Jacobs, acting head of NOAA, in an interview with committee staff last week. Now the Science Committee is asking for interviews with the Commerce Department officials as well as communications concerning the NOAA statement and drafts of it.

In addition, Jacobs told the Science Committee that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was “involved in high-level conversations” about the statement, through the Commerce Department officials. As The Washington Post has previously reported, Mulvaney was acting at the request of Trump.

Aside from Jacobs himself, who holds a PhD in meteorology, none of the individuals involved in its drafting is a scientist. NOAA’s scientific integrity policy prohibits political interference with the conduct and communication of the agency’s scientific findings.

Jacobs had fought issuing the statement and also tried to block the paragraph that admonished the National Weather Service office in Birmingham that tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts” from Hurricane Dorian. However, Jacobs lost both those arguments, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Isn’t it easier to own up to what you’ve done, Mr. President?

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