Employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who spoke up about Trump administration policies had their emails scrutinized by a lawyer working for a Republican campaign research group, according to a report published Sunday by The New York Times.
That research group, America Rising, is affiliated with another company that has been hired by the EPA to do "media monitoring," raising concerns among agency employees that the agency is clamping down on those with dissenting views, the newspaper reported.
According to the Times, three employees said they spoke up, either during meetings, in letters or through public demonstrations, to express concerns about the direction of the EPA under Trump. Days later, the lawyer affiliated with America Rising submitted requests for the employees' emails that mentioned either EPA chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children Science matters: Thankfully, EPA leadership once again agrees Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE or President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE, the newspaper reported.
“This is a witch hunt against EPA employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment,” one employee told the Times.
America Rising is affiliated with Definers Corp., a research firm based in Arlington, Va. The EPA is paying that company $120,000 to use a media-tracking tool to follow media coverage of its clients.
The Times reported on Saturday that Allan Blutstein, a vice president for Definers Public Affairs, has submitted dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA since the beginning of Trump's presidency, many of which target agency employees who are known to be critical of the administration.
The moves come amid heightened tensions between the media and Trump's administration. The president frequently refers to mainstream media outlets as "fake news."
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer earlier this year denied that Trump administration officials were keeping "dossiers" on White House reporters.