Earlier today, we published an exclusive feature story in which I reported that Capitol Hill Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke disproportionately targeted senior employees of color for reassignments when he shuffled dozens of staffers around last summer. This story is the latest in my ongoing investigation into the bigger story of retaliation against career civil servants under the Trump administration, which is reportedly happening across several federal agencies.
The targeting of racial minorities in the federal workforce may also be an emerging pattern. The Interior Department probe demanded by Democrats follows reports that Trump appointees at the State Department coordinated with White House officials and outside conservative activists to sideline an Iranian-American career staffer.
For this latest scoop, I talked to one of the most prominent whistleblowers of the Trump era: climate scientist Joel Clement. Clement, who believes he was targeted because of his work on climate change and with Native American tribes who are affected by it, is challenging his reassignment at several levels. There are simultaneous investigations pending at the Office of Special Counsel, the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office.
When I spoke with him, Clement emphasized that his case is about way more than just his own career and the careers of the few dozen of his colleagues who were also pushed out of their roles. If the various investigating bodies uphold Zinke’s move, he warned, it could give the green light for a government-wide purge.
“The concern is that if you let this one fly, they won’t hold back,” he said. “They’ll exercise their authority to move people around however they want.”
Clement said that while many of his cohort are keeping their heads down until their cases are decided, he wanted to speak out publicly.
“They had already taken my job, so all I had left was my voice,” he said. “The legal and political community needs to know what is is happening in terms of abuses of power. Career staff usually doesn’t have a voice, so I wanted to be that voice. Even if all the legal stuff goes sideways, I still have that.”
TPM plans to stay on this story, and, as we do, readers’ tips will be an invaluable part of our reporting. If you are a federal worker who has experienced or witnessed politically motivated retaliation under this administration — or if you know someone who is and has — send me a tip.
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