Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to dismiss all workers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who refused to disavow a tweet from a regional office that refuted President Donald Trump‘s false claim that Hurricane Dorian would likely affect Alabama.

According to The New York Times, Ross called Acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs to demand that the agency change the National Weather Service’s statement about Hurricane Dorian’s projected path. Jacobs refused and Ross reportedly responded by threatening mass firings. The NWS, which is based in Birmingham, said in a tweet last week that Alabama was not expected to be hit by the storm. Despite this, Trump presented a map in the Oval Office that had been clearly redrawn with a Sharpie marker to claim that the hurricane would strike the state. The gaffe generated dozens of online memes and mockery from the media, while reports began surfacing that several White House officials are concerned about the president’s mental state.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department denied the Times’ story in a statement to CNN.

“The New York Times story is false,” the spokesperson told the network. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.”

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The report about Ross further reveals how far Trump administration officials will go to defend the president at all costs. It also follows a statement from a top NOAA official, Acting NOAA Chief Scientist Craig McLean, who vowed to investigate whether the agency violated its own ethics rules by supporting Trump’s tweets about Hurricane Dorian over assessments from experts.

Several lawmakers also said that if the Times’ story about Ross was factual, the commerce secretary should resign. Among them were Rep. Don Beyer (D-Virginia), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Connecticut) also said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that if correct, the story about Ross would be yet another example of White House officials striving to protect Trump on nearly any issue.

“If that story is true, I don’t know that it is, if it is true, the commerce secretary needs to resign now,” said Himes, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. “That would be the most blatant use of an official position in the service of the ego and the political fortunes of the President that we have ever seen.”


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