President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to pressure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to disavow a tweet from a National Weather Service’s regional office that contradicted Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian was likely to hit Alabama, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The Times said a senior administration official told the paper that Mulvaney wanted to set the record straight because he thought the NWS’ Birmingham, Alabama, office had “gone too far” when it contradicted Trump’s false claim last week. According to the paper, Ross called Neil Jacobs, NOAA’s acting administrator, and told him to “fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.” The Times previously reported that Ross threatened to fire top NOAA employees if they didn’t disavow the tweet.
A White House official confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that Mulvaney spoke with Ross about NOAA’s handling of the NWS tweet that contradicted Trump. The Times report did not say Trump told his acting chief of staff to tell Ross to contact NOAA about the tweet.
Still, Trump, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office later Wednesday, denied instructing Mulvaney to speak to Ross about the issue, calling the report “a fake story.” A White House official also told CNN that the President did not ask his chief of staff to tell Ross to pressure NOAA about the tweet.
In a letter to Ross, whose department oversees NOAA, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said she was “deeply disturbed by the politicization of NOAA’s weather forecast activities for the purpose of supporting incorrect statement by the President.”
The probe adds to a growing list of investigations by House committees overseen by Democrats who have been flexing their oversight power since taking control of the chamber earlier this year.
Johnson, a Texas Democrat, wrote in her letter that the committee was probing Ross’ “alleged threat to fire NOAA political officials if they did not fall in line with the White House’s misleading statements,” the statement from the agency disavowing the NWS tweet “that attempted to set the record straight” on Dorian’s path, and a “directive issued to NOAA staff forbidding them from speaking out in contradiction of” Trump’s false tweet.
The committee is asking for documents related to “the formulation and issuance” of its statement disavowing the National Weather Service tweet and records related to all communications between NOAA and the department around the time that the controversy began, as well as a number of other documents.
In a separate letter sent Tuesday to the department’s inspector general, Johnson expressed her full support for a review the IG recently opened into NOAA’s statement disavowing the tweet.
More than a dozen Senate Democrats also wrote to the IG on Tuesday, asking it to look into several of their own questions as part of the review being conducted by the department’s watchdog.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who signed onto the letter, told CNN on Wednesday that her “concern is that this is an administration that doesn’t rely on facts and science for their decisions.”
“It’s particularly dangerous in my opinion for the weather reports and warnings about hurricanes to be politicized because people are dependent on the weather report and if they are going to be struck with a hurricane they need to do preparations,” Hirono said.
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.