Belfer Center by Harvard Kennedy School
President Trump often says that members of the "deep state" tend to sabotage his program.
And some of the career public officials the president is referring to have said they have avenged them after subsequent reports in conservative media calling into question their loyalty to Trump.
On Thursday, the State Department's internal watchdog confirmed that this happened to a senior foreign policy officer who was improperly removed from his post by White House officials as a result of an online campaign to smear Alt-Right websites.
The officer in question is Sahar Norouzade, a 36-year-old national security specialist who speaks Persian and Arabic, who helped draft the Iranian nuclear deal in the Obama administration.
In 2017, conservative websites called her "Obama's trusted aide" and called her a "Muslim spy" among other allegations.
According to a report by the State Department's Inspector General, Trump's top officials share some of these articles with White House officials, adding that they believe Nowrouzzadeh was crying when Trump was elected.
The report said that it raised questions about her loyalty to Trump. Another Trump official erroneously noted that Noruzadeh was born in Iran. In fact, she was born in Connecticut. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Iran, but that didn't stop the wave of disparaging articles.
"Shortly afterwards, the details came to a close after senior officials engaged in what the report called a meaningful discussion about my perceived national origin, my perceived political views and perceptions of belonging to former administrations," Norouzade told NPR .
Trump officials demotivated her from her highest political office in the State Department, though she has had a career in public service for nearly 15 years. She first entered the federal government in 2005 with President George W. Bush.
The IG recommended that the persons responsible for its appointment should be disciplined and politically appointed in the department to be trained in personnel practices.
In response, the State Department said they would consider taking action against people involved in the elimination of Noruzadeda and providing new training.
The IG found that the remarks made to White House officials about the perceived location of Noruzadeda were particularly alarming.
"They are completely contrary to the policies of the department, which require fair and equitable treatment of employees, without regard to national origin," the report states. "They also contravene the department's leadership principles, which require executives to appreciate diversity in the workplace."
Nowrouzzadeh asked his then chief, Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, to help her correct misinformation in articles on websites that support Trump like the Conservative Review and Breitbart.
She told IG researchers that Hooke said "almost nothing" in response to her concerns. Hooke recalled telling her that such stories were "relatively standard" for high-level public officials, instructing her to ignore false stories.
In his long response, attached to the report, Hook said that the decision to re-appoint Noruzadeda did not take into account her perceived political beliefs or where she was born. Instead, he was referring to another candidate for her role, whom Hook considered an "ideal choice."
"My staffing decision was lawful, correct and within the administrative standards of the State Department," Hook writes.
Nowrouzzadeh, who is now a research associate in Iran at Harvard University but is still employed by the State Department, said he hoped the findings in the IG report did not discourage others from seeking to become foreign employees.
"I think steps must be taken to protect against any such misconduct against this or any future administration," Nowrouzzadeh told NPR. "I always and will continue to encourage Americans of all backgrounds, including those with an Iranian heritage, such as myself, to consider themselves a public service and not be discouraged by these findings."
Four career State Department officials say they have retaliated against excessive political bias against Trump, but IG has not been able to find sufficient evidence. to support these claims.
Norman Ornstein with the Washington-based conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute fears attacks on government officials by Trump loyalists and media stories that demonize government workers will have long-lasting consequences.
"I think it will be a challenge for every president, every administration and every government forward to be able to reassure people entering civil service that they will not be subject to horrific attacks that are completely unjustified – he said Ornstein.