Ranking Member Cantwell, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Grijalva, Urge Trump Administration to Stop Obstructing Release of “Sharpiegate” Report

July 7, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D, AZ-03), leaders on the committees with jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding that the Trump administration stop interfering with the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s (IG) “Sharpiegate” investigation that was scheduled to be released last week.

The report evaluates the alleged political interference in NOAA’s communication of critical information about Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, when President Trump inaccurately claimed that Hurricane Dorian would put Alabama at risk of storm damage. Based on a publicly available transmittal memo, the report is expected to conclude that the Department of Commerce led a flawed process and failed to account for the public safety intent of National Weather Service communications.

The lawmakers’ letter, available HERE, echoes the “deep concern” of Commerce Department IG Peggy Gustafson that the Trump administration is blocking the release of the IG’s full report by claiming executive privilege over parts of the report but refusing to suggest appropriate reactions that would allow its timely release. The Trump administration continues to hinder transparency and threaten the independence of Inspector General Gustafson, who oversees the Commerce Department’s interactions with NOAA, one of our top scientific agencies responsible for predicting extreme weather and monitoring the oceans and atmosphere.

“We join Ms. Gustafson in calling on Commerce to provide her office, no later than July 9, 2020, ‘formal privilege markings—that are precise and unambiguous and include the privilege being claimed—to the report and its appendixes,’ or to ‘confirm that the Department seeks no privilege redactions and consequently acknowledges that the report will be posted without redaction,’” the lawmakers wrote.

“In light of the protracted discussions that already appear to have occurred between Commerce and the IG on this issue, should Commerce not provide such information in a good faith manner by the specified date, we believe the IG will be fully within her authority to release the report without further delay, in whatever form she deems necessary and appropriate.”

Senator Cantwell has demanded full transparency from the Trump Administration in regards to the “Sharpiegate” investigation, calling last Wednesday for “that full, unredacted report to be made public immediately.” On Thursday, in response to IG Gustafson’s memo, Cantwell said, “This situation has gone from bad to worse. Secretary Ross must immediately cease this campaign to keep the public in the dark. The Inspector General is doing their job and the public deserves to see the report. Release the report now, Mr. Secretary.”

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