Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faces calls to resign after reports of meddling at NOAA

Ross reportedly threatened to fire top NOAA employees if they did not back Trump's false Hurricane Dorian claims

By Shira Tarlo
September 10, 2019 9:44PM (UTC)
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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross waits to speak at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2019 Hurricane Season Outlook press conference May 23, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faces calls to resign in the wake of reports that he threatened to fire top officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) if they did not support President Donald Trump's false claims that Hurricane Dorian posed a threat to the state of Alabama.

Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia, Paul Tonko of New York and Jim Himes of Connecticut on Monday demanded that Ross step down. The nation's largest environmental group, the Sierra Club, said Ross should resign to "maintain the dignity of the federal government."


Though he did not call on him to resign, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described Ross's behavior as "thuggish."

"Secretary Ross appears to be learning all the wrong lessons from President Trump's friends President Putin and Chairman Kim," Schumer said in a statement Monday night. "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 New York Times reported Monday that Ross had threatened to fire top staff at NOAA in an effort shut down the agency's perceived contradiction of the president statements about Hurricane Dorian's path.


That threat is reportedly what prompted NOAA to issue an unusual unsigned statement on Sept. 6 affirming Trump's claims and disavowing the National Weather Service's position that Alabama was not at risk.

The reversal prompted widespread anger within the agency and sparked backlash from the scientific community, who assailed NOAA for conceding to Trump and undermining its experts during a weather emergency.

NOAA's Friday statement is now being investigated by the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General, the New York Times reported. NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department.


The news is the latest probe to come out of the agency's response to the president’s falsehoods about Hurricane Dorian.

On Sunday, NOAA's acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, said he was investigating whether the agency's response to Trump's remarks on Hurricane Dorian violated NOAA's ethics and policies.


"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," McLean said.

On Monday, NWS Director Louis Uccellini reportedly received a standing ovation at a major weather industry conference in Huntsville, Ala., after he praised the forecasters who corrected Trump's inaccurate claims and upheld "the integrity of the forecasting process."

"They did what any office would do," Uccellini said. "With an emphasis they deemed essential, they shut down what they thought were rumors. They quickly acted to reassure their partners, the media and the public — with strong language — that there was no threat."

Shira Tarlo

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