Ross threatened to fire top NOAA staff after office contradicted Trump on Dorian: report

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Senate Democrats accuse administration of burying climate change reports Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt MORE threatened to fire top employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after officials contradicted President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE’s claim that Alabama could be affected by Hurricane Dorian, according to a report by The New York Times. 

The Commerce Department later denied the story in a statement to The Hill.

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

Trump faced pushback from meteorologists last week after stating that Alabama would potentially feel the effects of Dorian. The warning, which came via tweet, prompted the National Weather Service's Birmingham branch to emphasize on Twitter that the state would not be affected by the storm. 

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Trump adamantly defended his position throughout the week and at one point displayed a map in the Oval Office that appeared to show a marker-drawn addition to indicate Dorian would hit Alabama.   

Ross contacted acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs two days later and asked him to fix issues related to the perception that the agency had contradicted Trump, the Times reported Monday, citing three people familiar with the discussion. The newspaper said that Jacobs initially objected. 

He was then told that political staff at NOAA would be dismissed if the situation wasn't resolved. 

On Friday, an unsigned NOAA statement was issued that affirmed Trump's claims and disavowing the tweet from the National Weather Service in Birmingham about the hurricane. 

The White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment to the Times, the story said. 

NOAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, called for Ross to step down in the wake of Monday's report.

"His direct attacks on the scientists and federal employees, whom he threatened to fire for doing their jobs by accurately reporting the weather, are an embarrassing new low for a member of this Cabinet which has been historically venal and incompetent," Beyer said in a statement.

The Sierra Club also called for Ross to "immediately resign" following the Times's story.

"Ross’ actions undermine scientific integrity within the Commerce Department for political purposes, and could erode trust in essential public health agencies. His actions, on behalf of Donald Trump, threatened to instill panic simply to give cover for Trump," the group said in a statement.

NOAA's statement backing Trump's assessment faced pushback from within the National Weather Service (NWS). Dan Sobien, who heads the NWS Employees Organization, which represents thousands working under NOAA, told The Daily Beast that workers were "shocked, stunned and irate" about the move. 

“These are the people risking their lives flying into hurricanes and putting out forecasts that save lives. Never before has their management undercut their scientifically sound reasoning and forecasts,” Sobien said. 

Craig McLean, NOAA's acting chief scientist, on Monday announced that he would be looking into whether the agency's move constituted a violation of policies and ethics. McLean called NOAA's response “political” and a “danger to public health and safety,” according to an email obtained by The Washington Post and later verified by The Hill. 

NWS Director Louis Uccellini received a standing ovation from attendees of a forecaster conference on Monday after defending the Birmingham branch's decision to correct Trump's warning.  

“They did that with one thing in mind: public safety,” Uccellini said at a National Weather Association meeting, adding that forecasters had been flooded with messages and calls last week about the president's tweet. 

A senior Trump administration official who requested anonymity told the Times that the Birmingham office's assessment was incorrect. The official also reportedly suggested that the tweet correcting Trump stemmed from a desire to embarrass the president. 

Updated at 5:23 p.m.