Wilbur Ross 'Needs to Resign Now' If He Threatened to Fire Top NOAA Officials for Tweet Contradicting Trump on Hurricane Dorian, Democrat Says

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is facing calls to resign over a report alleging that he threatened to fire top officials at NOAA for a tweet disputing President Donald Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama.

"If that story is true, and I don't know that it is, but if that story is true, the Commerce Secretary needs to resign now," Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, told CNN.

"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.

"And in this case, it's particularly serious because, of course, you know, issues around weather forecasting, ships rely on that, communities rely on that, people make decisions about whether a hurricane is coming or if it's not."

Himes continued: "By the way, the Commerce Department also provides all of the data on the United States economy, which is used by our businesses, and by people who watch the United States economy.

"So if the Commerce Secretary is saying I don't care what's true, here's what the President wants, he needs to go and he needs to go yesterday."

Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia and Paul Tonko of New York also called for Ross to go, as did Michael Brune, executive director of environmental nonprofit the Sierra Club, The Hill reported.

Trump repeatedly stated that Alabama was at risk from Dorian, and appeared in the Oval Office with an NOAA forecast map that was altered by pen to extend the hurricane's forecast path to include Alabama. The original, unaltered map did not show this.

The Birmingham, Alabama, office of the National Weather Service, which sits under NOAA, corrected on Twitter the impression Trump gave about the path of Dorian.

"Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama," the tweet read on September 1. "The system will remain too far east."

After the tweet, on the same day, Trump reiterated his claim that Alabama was threatened by Dorian despite what the latest forecasting information put out by the National Weather Service said.

According to The New York Times report, Ross, whose department oversees NOAA, directed the weather officials "to fix the agency's perceived contradiction of the president" at the tweet by the NWS's Birmingham office.

When met with resistance by Dr. Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, Ross reportedly said the political staff at the agency, appointed by the Trump administration, would be fired.

But a Commerce Department spokesperson told Newsweek: "The New York Times story is false. Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian."

After the alleged intervention by Ross, NOAA issued a statement, credited to nobody, undermining the forecasters in the NWS Birmingham office.

"From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama," the statement said.

"The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time."

That statement, the Times reported, is now under examination by the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General.

Louis Uccellini, director of the NWS, told his agency's national conference on Monday that the Birmingham office was right to contradict Trump's remarks because they were trying to shut down rumors, the source of which they did not initially realize was the president.

"They did that with one thing in mind: Public safety," Uccellini said, inviting the conference to give a standing ovation to the Birmingham forecasters under fire by the Trump administration.

NOAA did not respond immediately to Newsweek's request for comment.

Wilbur Ross Donald Trump NOAA Dorian
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks during a meeting with businessmen at the American Chamber of Commerce, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 30, 2019. Ross reportedly threatened to fire top NOAA officials over a weather service tweet contradicting President Donald Trump. NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

This article was updated with a comment by a Commerce Department spokesperson.