House Democrats: State Department staffers not considered loyal to Trump being pushed out
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Top House Democrats are accusing the White House and State Department of forcing out administration officials not considered sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Citing emails provided by a whistleblower, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking members of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, wrote to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan raising questions about what they see as an apparent effort to target career civil servants at the State Department.
The State Department confirmed that it had received the letter Thursday afternoon and “will comply with Congress’ request,” according to spokesperson Heather Nauert, who said she had never heard of outside groups pressuring the department to making staffing changes. “This is the first I’ve heard of it in this letter,” she said.
A number of emails, reviewed by ABC News, focus on former State Department official Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career official who worked on the Iran nuclear deal under President Obama at the State Department and on the White House National Security Council.
Nowrouzzadeh was the subject of a March story from a conservative outlet describing her as a “trusted Obama aide” who was “burrowing into the government under President Trump.”
She wrote to Brian Hook, her supervisor and director of the secretary’s policy planning staff, to push back on the story from the Conservative Review.
“I am and have been a career civil servant for nearly 12 years now,” she wrote in her email to Hook. “I began government service in the Bush Administration at DOD/NSA after graduating college and have focused on Iran in various capacities ever since. I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I have worked for.”
Nowrouzzadeh asked to meet with Hook to discuss the story and said she was worried about her safety. Hook forwarded her note to other Trump appointees, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s deputy chief of staff Christine Ciccone; his deputy, Ed Lacey; and Matt Mowers.
“I know she is, in fact, a career civil servant,” Lacey replied, adding that she served on the Obama National Security Council, and promoted and defended the Iran nuclear deal “with enthusiasm.” In another email, he refers to Nowrouzzadeh as one of a handful of “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”
In a subsequent email, Julia Haller, formerly the State Department’s White House liaison, wrote that it would be “easy to get a detail suspended,” and claimed Nowrouzzadeh was born in Iran and “cried when the president won.”
The Connecticut-born Nowrouzzadeh, currently a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was later removed from her assignment on the State Department’s policy planning staff in a manner that was “not in accordance with that which was explicitly stated in my [memorandum of understanding],” she wrote to State Department officials in an email regarding a Politico story about her reassignment.
She did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
The emails also appear to reveal that conservatives outside the administration were in touch with State Department and White House officials with concerns about career staff.
David Wurmser, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, emailed the Conservative Review story about Nowrouzzadeh to Trump adviser and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who forwarded it along to Margaret Peterlin, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff.
“I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote to Gingrich. “I hear Tillerson has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind.”
The emails also identify several White House officials, including Deputy White House Counsel Makan Delrahim, who were aware of the story and communicating about Nowrouzzadeh. He had received a note with the story from a judicial strategy distribution list from Barbara Leeden, a conservative activist.
Nowrouzzadeh was one of several officials viewed with suspicion in the early days of the Trump administration.
In one email to himself titled “Derek notes” — a reference to National Security Council Senior Director Derek Harvey, according to a congressional aide — Hook listed several other officials and notes about their loyalty, and described one as a “turncoat” who is “fully political.”
In their letter, Cummings and Engel have asked the State Department and White House for transcribed interviews with White House and State Department officials regarding Nowrouzzadeh’s detail and reassignment, along with relevant documents and communications.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. During the briefing with reporters at the State Department, Nauert defended career employees as “extremely professional” and “almost blind to politics.”
“They may not always like the policy that they are asked to advance on behalf of this administration and the American people, but my personal experience has been that people have done that and handled it in a very professional matter,” she said.
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