House Democrats on Thursday accused Trump-appointed officials in the State Department and at the White House of working with outside conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of career staff whom, according to emails handed over to Dems by a whistleblower, they deemed insufficiently loyal to the President’s agenda.
Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) — the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees, respectively — made the claims in a letter dated Thursday to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. In the letter, Cummings and Engel requested documents and interviews related to the reassignment of State Department career staff and civil servants.
Politico has also obtained the emails the Democrats referenced in their letter.
In one email, David Wurmser, formerly a Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, sent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a March 2017 article in the Conservative Review targeting Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career State staffer and expert in Iran policy.
“Newt: I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote, according to the Democrats’ letter. “I hear Tillerson actually been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind…”
Gingrich then passed Wurmser’s email (which referred to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom President Donald Trump fired earlier this week) along to Trump appointees in the State Department, according to Cummings and Engel.
The Conservative Review story that Wurmser cited claimed that Nowrouzzadeh, who joined the State Department under the George W. Bush administration, had “burrowed” into the State Department. It also noted her role in the promotion of President Barack Obama’s Iran deal, which Trump has disparaged as a “disaster.”
Nowrouzzadeh reached out to her advisor Brian Hook, a political appointee and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, seeking that he help her “correct the record,” according to the Democrats’ letter.
Instead, according to Cummings and Engel, Hook forwarded her email to other State Department officials, who in turned forwarded it to aides at the White House.
One White House aide, Julie Haller, said falsely in an email that Nowrouzzadeh was “born in Iran” (she is of Iranian descent but was born in Connecticut, according to Politico). “[U]pon my understanding,” Haller wrote, Nowrouzzadeh “cried when the President won.”
According to the Democrats’ letter, Haller also wrote to Trump aide Sean Doocey and other White House officials that it was “easy to get a detail suspended and because she’s a conditional career, we just need to confirm the year she is in.”
Hook cut short Nowrouzzadeh’s year-long stint at the Policy Planning Staff, which serves as an in-house think tank, by three months, Politico reported, and the State Department misled Politico when it initially reported her reassignment last year.
In an email exchange where career staffer Edward Lacey, the deputy director of Policy Planning Staff, instructed a press aide to stress that Nowrouzzadeh’s tenure in the role had been completed, Nowrouzzadeh rebuked his characterization, according to the report.
“Ed – My assignment was not ‘completed,’” she wrote, according to Politico. “The 3 month curtailment to the duration of my detail was also not handled in accordance with that which was explicitly stated in my [memorandum of understanding].”
According the House Democrats’ letter and Politico’s report, Nowrouzzadeh was not the only career staffer whom Trump appointees treated with suspicion.
Last April, according to Politico, Hook sent an email to himself with a list of names where he described one name as a “turncoat” and another as a “leaker and troublemaker.”
The email was titled “Derek notes” — an apparent reference to then-National Security Council aide Derek Harvey, according to the report.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, in a comment to Politico, denied that members of the Policy Planning Staff were biased against career staffers, and said that more than half of the office’s current staff are career professionals.
“Any suggestion that the makeup of the Policy Planning Staff reflects a bias against career civil servants is completely without merit,” she said. “The details of Policy Planning’s staffing under Director Hook demonstrate that career civil servants continue to play an integral role, as do political appointees.”
Read the House Democrats’ letter below: