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Trump secures a NOAA walkback, bending another agency to his words

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday released a statement that sought to back President Donald Trump’s repeated, misleading claim that Hurricane Dorian could have severely affected Alabama.

Trump has been widely panned for presenting an altered map of the storm’s path Wednesday that used a black marker to include Alabama. The map appeared to have been changed to follow claims Trump posted Sunday on Twitter that the state would "likely be hit (much) harder" by the storm than models at the time suggested.

The National Weather Service office in Birmingham clarified that day that Alabama was not in the storm’s path.

But Trump has stood his ground, and now the NOAA appears to have taken Trump’s side in the six-day imbroglio.

In its carefully worded and unsigned Friday statement, the federal agency contradicted the Birmingham National Weather Service, saying the Alabama-based office "spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time."

The statement said NOAA had provided the White House information from Aug. 28 through Sept. 2 that tropical storm winds from the hurricane could affect Alabama. The map Trump used was a 5-day forecast by the National Hurricane Center issued on Aug. 29 — in which the agency never predicted the storm would hit Alabama.

The president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, Dan Sobien, responded in a tweet: "Let me assure you the hard working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight #NOAA."

At the time of Trump’s initial tweet, the most recent forecast from the National Hurricane Center showed that a sliver of the state had a less than 10 percent chance of seeing tropical storm-force winds.

It’s not the first time a federal agency has come to Trump’s defense after the president was criticized for making dubious claims. Repeatedly, the officially non-partisan federal bureaucracy has been called to the president’s defense.

Inauguration crowds

In the early days of the Trump administration, the president and his then-press secretary Sean Spicer claimed that the inauguration had the largest crowd in American history — a claim swiftly debunked by photos tweeted by the National Park Service comparing the Trump inauguration and that of President Barack Obama.

Trump later called the Park Service, urging it to find photos supporting his claim of having the largest inauguration size and expressing anger over the tweet, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Climate change and the environment

In the same vein, Trump — during his first month in office — banned the EPA from giving social media updates or speaking with reporters. These restrictions were mimicked by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments.

POLITICO reported the no-media rule was accompanied by bans on the phrases “Climate Change,” “Emissions Reduction” and “Paris Agreement” from all communications. Coinciding with Trump’s campaign promises, the workers were prompted to use the new preferred words: “jobs” and “infrastructure.”

The border wall

Trump said in 2018 that “tremendous amounts” of his promised border wall had been built. That wasn’t true: The Border Patrol was replacing old barriers with new ones.

Still, DHS took up the narrative. In June 2018, they tweeted: “just as he promised, the border wall has begun construction.” Except the plan they linked to had been in the works since 2009 and did not include construction of Trump’s wall.

The department has been criticized for spreading misinformation in the past. It announced nearly 4,000 people on the FBI terror watch list were stopped as they tried to enter the U.S. — but DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen didn’t point out that was a worldwide number and most of them were apprehended at airports.

Census question

After Trump failed to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, defended Trump’s contradictory claims that the administration was still pushing for the question to be added to the census.

A few days after the Supreme Court refused in June to allow census officials to add the question without further justification, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the administration would drop its plans to ask for respondents’ citizenship. But Trump shortly after tweeted that he was going to pursue the question regardless, and Justice and Commerce Department officials later confirmed they were considering pursuing the question in court.

Mass shootings

More recently, after the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Health and Human Services staffers were reined in to prevent any contradictions to Trump’s claims linking mental health and gun violence. HHS staffers were ordered not to post anything to social media related to mental health and mass shootings without prior approval, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Trump insisted that repairing mental health was an under-discussed cause of gun violence and pushed for an overhaul of the nation’s mental health system.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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