Commerce secretary reportedly made threats at Noaa after agency contradicted Trumps false claim on Hurricane Dorian

The US secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, is facing calls for his resignation after it was reported that he had threatened to fire senior staff at a federal agency unless they sided publicly with Donald Trump in the rumbling dispute dubbed Sharpiegate.

The New York Times, citing three anonymous officials, reported that Ross had called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), last Friday and warned that heads would roll unless the agencys disagreement with the US president over the path of Hurricane Dorian was smoothed over.

Earlier in the week, the agencys Birmingham, Alabama, office incurred Trumps wrath by publicly repudiating the presidents false claim that Alabama was at risk from a devastating hurricane. By that point Alabama in fact lay outside the storms likely trajectory.

In a desperate effort to bolster Trumps inaccurate statement, a map of the hurricanes cone of uncertainty was presented in the Oval Office that had been altered by Sharpie pen to extend the area of danger over a corner of Alabama.

Hours after Rosss intervention, the Noaa put out an extraordinary official statement that sided with Trump and admonished its own Birmingham office.

The news that a cabinet member in the Trump administration had threatened to fire politically-appointed staff at the agency in order to force the Noaa to contradict the advice of its own scientists prompted immediate condemnation.

The head of the environmental group the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, called on Ross to resign to maintain the dignity of the federal government.

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Donald Trump displays Hurricane Dorian map apparently doctored with marker pen video

Brune called the intervention a shameless abuse of power that could have devastating results now and in the future. Democratic congress members Don Beyer from Virginia and Paul Tonko from New York also called on Ross to step down.

And late on Monday, the New York Times amended its story to report that the commerce departments own Office of Inspector General has launched an inquiry into that official statement and whether it breached departmental rules.

That adds to an investigation initiated on Sunday by the Noaas acting chief scientist, Craig McLean. He sent an email to colleagues announcing that he was looking into how the agency had come to disavow its own experts in backing Trumps inaccurate claim.

The email, obtained by the Washington Post, called the agencys response political and a danger to public health and safety.

The commerce secretary has denied that he threatened to fire staff. A statement made to the Hill called the New York Times story false and said: Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any Noaa staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.

But the denial did little to quell the anxiety of top scientists at the Noaa who are dismayed that scientific findings made at the height of a severe public emergency should have been overridden in order to spare Trumps blushes. On Monday the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini, praised the agencys forecasters in Birmingham for having rebuffed Trumps false tweet in an effort to avoid public panic.

They did that with one thing in mind: public safety, Uccellini told a meeting of the National Weather Association.



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