Watchdog Report: Trump Official Punished Public Servant Over Her Iranian Heritage
President Trump often says members of the "deep state" are bent on sabotaging his agenda.
And some of the career civil servants the president is referring to have said they have been retaliated against following reports in conservative media questioning their loyalty to Trump.
On Thursday, the State Department's internal watchdog affirmed that this happened to one high-ranking foreign policy official who was improperly removed from her post by White House officials in the wake of an online smear campaign on alt-right websites.
The official in question is Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a 36-year-old national security specialist fluent in Persian and Arabic who helped craft the Iran nuclear deal in the Obama administration.
Back in 2017, conservative websites labeled her a "a trusted Obama aide," and called her "a Muslim spy," among other allegations.
According to the report from the State Department's inspector general, top Trump officials shared some of these articles among White House staff, adding that they believe Nowrouzzadeh wept when Trump was elected.
The report says that raised questions about her loyalty to Trump. Another Trump official noted falsely that Nowrouzzadeh was born in Iran. In fact, she was born in Connecticut. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Iran, but that did not stop the wave of disparaging articles.
"Shortly thereafter, my detail ended after senior officials engaged in what the report called significant discussion of my perceived national origin, my perceived political views and perceived affiliations with former administrations," Nowrouzzadeh told NPR.
Trump officials demoted her from her top policy job in the State Department, despite a career in public service that spanned nearly 13 years. She first entered the federal government in 2005 under President George W. Bush.
The IG recommended that those responsible for her reassignment be disciplined and that political appointees in the department be trained on personnel practices.
State Department officials have said in response that they will consider taking action against those involved with Nowrouzzadeh's removal and will supply the new training.
The IG found the remarks circulated among White House staff about Nowrouzzadeh's perceived place of birth to be especially troubling.
"They are wholly inconsistent with Department policies requiring fair and equitable treatment of employees without consideration of national origin," according to the report. "They are also inconsistent with the Department's leadership principles, which require that leaders value diversity in the workplace."
Nowrouzzadeh asked her then-boss, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, to help her correct misinformation in articles on websites supportive of Trump such as Conservative Review and Breitbart.
She told IG investigators that Hook said "virtually nothing" in response to her concerns. Hook recalled telling her that such stories are "fairly standard" for civil servants in high-profile positions, instructing her to ignore the false stories.
Hook, in his own lengthy response attached to the report, said the decision to reassign Nowrouzzadeh was not made in consideration of her perceived political beliefs or where she was born. Instead, he had another candidate in mind for her role, someone Hook considered "an ideal choice."
"My personnel decision was lawful, proper, and within the administrative standards for the Department of State," Hook wrote.
Nowrouzzadeh, who is now a research fellow on Iran at Harvard University but is still employed by the State Department, said she hopes the findings of the IG's report do not discourage others from wanting to work there.
"I think steps need to be taken to protect against any such misconduct against this or any future administration," Nowrouzzadeh told NPR. "I've always and I'll continue to strongly encourage Americans of all backgrounds, including those of Iranian heritage, like myself, to consider public service and to not be discouraged by these findings."
Four other career State Department employees alleged that they were retaliated against over perceived political bias against Trump, but the IG could not find enough evidence to support those claims.
Norman Ornstein with the Washington-based conservative-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute fears the attacks on public servants by Trump loyalists and media stories that demonize government workers will have longterm repercussions.
"I think it's going to be a challenge for any president, any administration and any government going forward to be able to assure people who go into government service that they're not going to be the subject of horrific attacks that are completely unwarranted," Ornstein said.
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