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‘Sharpiegate’: What Trump said and why the controversy is continuing

WATCH ABOVE: Trump accused of doctoring path of hurricane Dorian on map to go over Alabama

U.S. President Donald Trump‘s claim nearly two weeks ago that hurricane Dorian could hit Alabama is continuing to make waves, even after the storm has passed.

“Sharpiegate” began after he held up a map apparently altered by a marker, which showed the storm’s projected path to include Alabama, during a briefing last week.

WATCH: Hurricane Dorian — Trump says North Carolina got ‘hit the hardest’ among U.S. states

Hurricane Dorian: Trump says North Carolina got ‘hit the hardest’ among U.S. states
Hurricane Dorian: Trump says North Carolina got ‘hit the hardest’ among U.S. states

Despite criticism from forecasters, Trump doubled and tripled down on his remarks.

Here’s a look at what Trump said and what has happened so far.

Trump tweets

Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, killing 43 people and leaving another 70,000 homeless before making its way north, causing flooding in the Carolinas and toppling trees and downing power lines in Atlantic Canada.

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However, the storm did not affect Alabama.

On Sept. 1, Trump posted his first tweet claiming Alabama would “most likely” be hit by hurricane Dorian.

READ MORE: Twitter mocks Trump’s altered hurricane map with more Sharpie ‘fixes’

“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” he wrote. “Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever.”

Shortly after, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham issued a tweet saying Alabama would not see any impacts from Dorian.

“We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” the service wrote. “The system will remain too far east.”

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also backed up the NWS’ statement on Sept. 1, when spokesman Christopher Vaccaro said, “The current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama.”

Marker on a map

Despite the criticism, Trump doubled down on his claim during a briefing from the Oval Office on Sept. 4, holding up a map from the NOAA of a previously projected path of hurricane Dorian.

The map had apparently been altered using a marker to extend the storm’s “cone of uncertainty” to include Alabama.

WATCH: Trump says relief efforts in Bahamas a ‘life-saving mission’

Trump says relief efforts in Bahamas a ‘life-saving mission’
Trump says relief efforts in Bahamas a ‘life-saving mission’

When asked by reporters about the map, Trump did not have an explanation.

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“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said. “I know that Alabama was in the original forecast,” he added, before claiming that there was a “95 per cent chance probability” that Alabama would have been hit by the hurricane.

READ MORE: Trump displays map of hurricane Dorian apparently altered to include Alabama

Later that evening, Trump tweeted a map dated Aug. 28.

“As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida also hitting Georgia and Alabama,” he wrote. “I accept the Fake News apologies!”

Thursday morning, Trump again took to Twitter, claiming once more that the storm had been projected to hit Alabama.

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“In the early days of the hurricane, when it was predicted that Dorian would go through Miami or West Palm Beach, even before it reached the Bahamas, certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf,” he wrote.

“Instead it turned North and went up the coast, where it continues now. In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed. In the path it took, no.”

NOAA statement

In a statement dated Sept. 6, the NOAA reneged on Vaccaro’s initial remarks, saying the information provided by the NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to Trump and the wider public “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

“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,” the statement reads.

WATCH: Hurricane Dorian: NOAA head defends agency amid controversy

Hurricane Dorian: NOAA head defends agency amid controversy
Hurricane Dorian: NOAA head defends agency amid controversy

The statement, however, drew harsh backlash from former NOAA employees and other forecasters.

“As a former top @NOAA leader I can say two things with certainty. No NOAA Administrator I worked for would have done this,” former NOAA official, Monica Medina wrote on Twitter. “And I would have quit if I had been directed to agree to let this BS go out.”

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In a Facebook post, former National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Bill Read said either NOAA leadership truly agrees with the statement, or they were ordered to issue it.

“If it is the former, the statement shows a lack of understanding of how to use probabilistic forecasts in conjunction with other forecast information. Embarrassing,” he wrote. “If it is the latter, the statement shows a lack of courage on their part by not supporting the people who are in the field who are actually doing the work. Heartbreaking.”

In a series of tweets, James Franklin, a retired chief of the NHC’s hurricane specialist unit, said he was “surprised and disappointed” that NOAA’s statement “seems to not recognize the value its forecasters add to NWS products and services every day.”

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WATCH: Trump asks military to divert resources from Puerto Rico, Florida to the Bahamas

Trump asks military to divert resources from Puerto Rico, Florida to the Bahamas
Trump asks military to divert resources from Puerto Rico, Florida to the Bahamas

“Based on my experience as a NHC forecaster, I saw no meteorological justification on Sunday for the President to add Alabama to the list of states that would ‘most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,'” he wrote.

Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator during the Obama administration, said: “It is truly sad to see political appointees undermining the superb, life-saving work of NOAA’s talented and dedicated career servants. Scientific integrity at a science agency matters.”

READ MORE: Trump was wrong to say Dorian threatened Alabama, said NWS. But the NOAA is backing him

NWS director Louis Uccellini said forecasters in Birmingham did the right thing when they tried to combat panic and rumours that Dorian posed a threat to the state.

In an effort to address the wounds, leaders at the NWS on Saturday sent a memo to employees praising their work.

“We continue to embrace and uphold the essential integrity of the entire forecast process as it was applied by ALL NWS offices,” they said in the memo, an emphasis no doubt directed at forecasters chastised by the NOAA statement.

Political pressure?

A New York Times report published Monday alleged the secretary of commerce had threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency after the Birmingham office’s tweet contradicted Trump’s claim.

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The report says Wilbur Ross called NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs and told him to fix the NWS’s contradiction of Trump’s statement.

However, a Commerce Department spokesperson has denied the story.

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

WATCH: Trump, FEMA officials provide update on Hurricane Dorian

Trump, FEMA officials provide update on Hurricane Dorian
Trump, FEMA officials provide update on Hurricane Dorian

According to the Associated Press, the White House declined to comment when asked if it had directed NOAA to release the statement. NOAA officials also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In an email to employees obtained by the Washington Post, NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, said the agency’s statement backing Trump’s claim “inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster.”

“My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political,” he continued.

READ MORE: Displaced by Dorian — What’s next for those left homeless by the devastating hurricane

McLean called the content of the press release “very concerning” and said it “compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”

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As a result, McLean said he is pursuing the potential violations of the NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity.

 

According to the Times report, the NOAA statement is now being examined by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, and employees have been asked to preserve their files.

—With files from Jesse Ferreras, Josh Elliott, The Associated Press and Reuters