The Census Is Going Digital, Bringing The Threat Of Disinformation Campaigns

Nov 14, 2019
Originally published on November 14, 2019 9:15 pm

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump often says a, quote, "deep state" is trying to bring him down, and some career civil servants have said they've been retaliated against after conservative media questioned their loyalty to Trump. Well, today the State Department's inspector general found that this actually happened to one high-ranking foreign policy official. And for more on this, we are joined by NPR's Bobby Allyn here in the studio.

Hi, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What specifically was the inspector general looking into here?

ALLYN: So the IG examined five cases of State Department workers saying they were retaliated against in the Trump administration, and all the attention has really focused on this woman named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh and what happened to her in 2017. And for background, she's a 36-year-old national security specialist. You know, her career spanned nearly 15 years under both Democrats and Republicans. And in the Obama administration, she was really instrumental in helping shape the Iran nuclear deal. And for the most part, she kept a pretty low profile, but then conservative media started saying really unflattering things about her, including calling her a, quote, "Muslim spy." And shortly after that, administration officials joined in.

SHAPIRO: And what did the White House say about her?

ALLYN: So the IG has specific emails that they cite from the White House in which White House officials say, falsely, that she was born in Iran. In fact, she was born in Connecticut. The Trump staffers also said in emails that she cried when Trump was elected, and they wondered if this raised questions about her loyalty to the U.S. And it wasn't long before Nowrouzzadeh was out. Here's how she put it to NPR.

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SAHAR NOWROUZZADEH: 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 association with former administrations.

SHAPIRO: So that's one case. You said that there were five in total investigated. What about the others?

ALLYN: So the four other career State Department employees alleged that Trump also punished them over the same kind of thing, over perceived political bias. But the IG didn't find enough evidence to back up those accounts, and one official continued to insist that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nowrouzzadeh's demotion. The IG did recommend that staff get training on personnel rules and emphasized that disciplinary action should be taken for anyone involved in inappropriate personnel decisions.

SHAPIRO: Of course, overshadowing all of this is that former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was suddenly ousted in May. President Trump called her bad news, and she is going to tell her side of the story publicly tomorrow in the impeachment hearing. So now there is also this inspector general report. How is this being received at the State Department?

ALLYN: Yeah, well, it's hard to say for sure, Ari, but there are a lot of reports that morale is really low in the State Department right now. And we know that foreign service applications have dropped in the Trump era. Nonetheless, Nowrouzzadeh, who is still with State, says she hopes the IG report doesn't deter people from wanting to work there.

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NOWROUZZADEH: 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.

SHAPIRO: Bobby, to pull back from the inspector general report a little bit, you've been reporting that attacks against public service (ph) are a thing that has been increasing lately, right?

ALLYN: It really has, but, you know, there's something old about this too, right? Past administrations have demonized the federal bureaucracy, saying the government is the problem. We all know that phrase. But these latest attacks by Trump loyalists and conservative websites really do represent something new. Here's Norm Ornstein at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

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NORM ORNSTEIN: 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.

ALLYN: So obviously, Ornstein says there could be some long-term repercussions here. And if there are, Ari, we'll be following it.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bobby Allyn, thank you.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.