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Politics Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report

18:43  02 july  2020
18:43  02 july  2020 Source:   thehill.com

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The Commerce Department's internal watchdog is accusing the department of "actively preventing" it from releasing a full report expected to detail a "flawed process" during what is now known as the Sharpiegate controversy.

a man in a suit and tie: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report © Getty Images Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Wednesday released a memo stating that department actions "effectively prevent us from publicly releasing the evaluation that is otherwise ready for release."

A summary of the OIG report released earlier this week said that it found that the department led a "flawed process that discounted" National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) participation and also "required NOAA to issue a Statement that did not further NOAA's or [National Weather Service's] interests."

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Last September, President Trump held up a map that showed an altered path for Hurricane Dorian sketched out with a black marker that appeared to wrongly show the storm headed toward Alabama in support of a statement he made earlier about the hurricane's projected path.

The OIG began investigating after NOAA then released an unsigned statement saying that forecasts did at one point show that "tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama" and criticized the National Weather Service's Birmingham office for tweeting that Alabama would not see impacts from the storm.

In a memo to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said that the department was declining to identify specific information that should be withheld.

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"The final publication of our evaluation has been delayed, thwarted, and effectively stopped by the Department's refusal to identify specific areas of privilege," she wrote. "Additionally, your staff has refused to engage in any meaningful discussion to identify proposed privilege redactions."

The watchdog added that she expects specific redaction suggestions by July 9.

A department spokesperson did not immediately provide comment to The Hill on the memo.

The summary, released earlier this week, additionally stated that the department "failed to account for the public safety intent of the NWS Birmingham tweet and the distinction between physical science and social science messaging" and accused an unidentified NOAA official of deleting relevant text messages.

A Commerce official who reviewed the report but was not authorized to comment told The Hill at the time that they did not believe the evidence provided matched the report's conclusion.

Another recent investigation found that the statement released by NOAA was driven by political influence rather than science.

Watchdog blasts Commerce Department for siding with Trump over erroneous Hurricane Dorian forecast .
The Commerce Department Inspector General on Thursday delivered a harsh rebuke of the department in a new report detailing how pressure from the White House prompted a statement from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration contradicting a local National Weather Service office during Hurricane Dorian in 2019. © JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump and Acting US Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan update the media on Hurricane Dorian preparedness from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, September 4, 2019.

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