Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have written a letter to the White House and the State Department requesting documents they say relate to a concerted effort to rid the Department of career officials deemed to be insufficiently supportive of President Trump’s agenda.
The letter refers to documents the Committee received from an informant showing State Department and White House officials, in consultation with prominent outside conservative voices discussed “cleaning” the State Department of employees who were holdovers from the Obama administration.
“We have obtained extremely disturbing new documents from a whistleblower indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of employees they believed were not sufficiently “supportive” of President Trump’s agenda,” Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Elliot Engel (D-NY) wrote.
“They appear to have targeted these staffers despite being fully aware they were career civil service employees and despite the career employees expressing willingness to support the policy priorities of the Trump Administration,” they added.
The emails show conversations between administration officials and prominent conservatives from outside government like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative activist Barbara Ledeen and former adviser to Dick Cheney and John Bolton, David Wurmser, referring to State Department career officials as “leakers and troublemakers,” “turncoats” and “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”
In one email, Wurmser wrote to former Speaker Gingrich, “Newt: I think a cleaning is in order here. I hear Tillerson actually has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind…”
Gingrich forwarded the email to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin.
One of the most extreme examples of the group’s deliberations involved a 12-year veteran of the State Department and Iran expert named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. The conservative website, Conservative Review published an article describing Nowrouzzadeh as an Obama loyalist who “burrowed into the government” and had ties to the Iranian government. The article was titled, “Iran deal architect is running Tehran policy at the State Dept.”
The group engaged in discussion about Nowrouzzadeh and whether she could be removed from a current assignment on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.
Brian Hook, the new head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, wrote that he “emailed friends who tracked the Iran deal for intel on her and waiting to hear back.” Edward Lacey, Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff wrote that Nowrouzzadeh “helped promote and defend the JCPOA [Iran deal] – I would say, with enthusiasm.”
Julia Haller, White House Liaison to the State Department at the time, wrote “As background, she worked on the Iran Deal…was born in Iran and upon my understanding cried when the President won.” Nowrouzzadeh was born in Connecticut.
Nowrouzzadeh wrote to Hook after reading the Conservative Review article for herself asking for his assistance to “correct the record.”
“I am and have been a career civil servant for nearly 12 years now. I began government service in the Bush Administration at DOD/NSA…I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I have worked for. I’d welcome an opportunity to discuss this once you’re back but in the meantime would welcome your thoughts on how to approach and potentially correct the record. The author of this piece has previously targeted me,” she wrote.
It was upon receiving her email that Hook forwarded it to the others and the conversation about Nowrouzzadeh began. “This initial info is helpful,” Hook responded after receiving the others’ responses.
Nowrouzzadeh’s stint at the Policy Planning Staff, traditionally a one-year assignment, was cut short by three months and Nowrouzzadeh was returned to the State Department’s Near East Bureau where is an official permanent employee.
Lacey attempted to push back on press accounts at the time that the ending of Nowrouzzadeh’s assignment was abnormal, saying “We need to counter the notion that she has been forced out…Her return to NEA should be characterized as what it is – the normal return to a parent office of a civil servant at the completion of a detail assignment. A perfectly normal occurrence.”
Nowrouzzadeh, who was copied on the exchange, replied “Ed – My assignment was not ‘completed.’ 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].”
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been accused in the year he has been in control of the State Department of purging career officials and leaving hundreds of positions purposefully vacant. He had previously acknowledged the nagging vacancies and attempted to lay some of the blame at the feet of the Senate for not approving replacements rapidly enough.
State Department officials, in the wake of Tillerson’s dismissal this week, have said that any future personnel decisions will be the prerogative of Secretary-designate Mike Pompeo.