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Democrats claim they have evidence State Dept. staffers were targeted for political reasons

Two top Democrats claim they have evidence staffers at the State Department were removed for political reasons. In a letter sent to White House chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan Friday, the Democrats said they have "extremely disturbing new documents" that top administration officials worked towards a "cleaning" of employees who didn't support the president enough. 

The letter from House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings and House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel comes on the heels of Mr. Trump's decision to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with a tweet. Mr. Trump has selected CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson. The Democrats claim they have hard "many reports of political attacks" on career State Department employees, but had not seen evidence of how bad the situation was until now. 

"We have obtained extremely disturbing new documents from a whistleblower indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a 'cleaning' of employees they believed were not sufficiently 'supportive' of President Trump's agenda," the letter reads. "They appear to have targeted these staffers despite being fully aware that they were career civil service employees and despite the career employees expressing willingness to support the policy priorities of the Trump administration."

The Democrats say that, if their documents are authentic, they seem to show that top political appointees "characterized career State Department employees in derogatory terms" such as "'leaker and a troublemaker" and "'turncoat,'" and "'Obama/Clinton loyalists not all supportive of President Trump's foreign policy agenda.'"

The documents, the Democrats said, include communications with conservatives outside government, like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and David Wurmser, longtime conservative activist Barbara Ledeen and former adviser to Dick Cheney and John Bolton. The White House officials involved in the documents apparently include Deputy Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel Sean Doocey, Deputy White House Counsel Makan Delrahim, National Security Council Senior Director Derek Harvey, and State Department appointees including chief of staff Margaret Peterlin, deputy chief of staff Christine Ciccone, senior White House adviser Matthew Mowers, director of the policy planning staff Brian Hook, deputy director of the policy planning staff Edward Lacey and White House liaison Julia Haller. 

In one email Gingrich allegedly forwarded to the president's State Department appointees, Wurmser wrote, "Newt: I think a cleaning is in order here. I hear Tillerson actually has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind..."

The Democrats said they are especially concerned about documents concerning career State Department official Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who was allegedly criticized and questioned instead of helped when she asked her supervisor, Brian Hook to "correct the record" after a conservative outlet targeted her. 

Cummings and Engel asked Kelly and Sullivan for any documents related to reassigning State Department employees since Mr. Trump's inauguration, and any documents related to that topic involving the White House and State Department individuals mentioned above. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.