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State Department watchdog recommends disciplinary action for Trump official

The State Department inspector general's report on political targeting was received by Congress Wednesday, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers are poring over it. 

The report recommends disciplinary action against U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.

The report describes Hook's alleged political targeting of and ethnic discrimination against a woman named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who worked on the Iran nuclear deal and was removed by Hook from a senior policy-planning role on Iran. It stems from a complaint referred in 2018, when the late Congressmen Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel, both Democrats, wrote a letter to then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to complain that a whistleblower had given them documents "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 Democrats said they were especially concerned about material concerning Nowrouzzadeh, a career State Department official who was allegedly criticized and questioned instead of helped when she asked Hook, who was her supervisor, to "correct the record" after a conservative outlet had targeted her. 

In tweets on Thursday, Nowrouzzadeh said she hopes the report "will guard against any further such misconduct by members of this or any future administration." 

"We should not fear, but rather value rigorous debate among colleagues with deep experience when formulating U.S. policy on matters critical to our national security," she wrote.

The State Department, however, disagreed with the findings and pointed out that the report says it didn't identify emails, documents or witness statements that suggested Hook "was personally motivated" to end Nowrouzzadeh's role because of her "perceived political opinions [or] perceived place of birth."

T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the agency's legal counselor, said, "The report ignores the compelling evidence provided by Brian Hook that his personnel decision in this matter was actually made prior to any of the non-merit factors being brought to his attention."

Hook, who is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Iran adviser, served in several positions in President George W. Bush's administration, and he has developed a close relationship to top White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

Ian Moss, a former Marine and lawyer who worked at the State Department on the closure of Guantanamo Bay and then on human rights at the National Security Council, filed a whistleblower complaint about political targeting. He is frustrated that his complaint was, in his view, whitewashed by the State Department IG. The report contains emails between former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and a State Department official working under then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussing him.

"The willful failure of the IG to connect the obvious dots undermines the very process he is statutorily charged with shepherding," Moss said in a statement. "That it took almost two years to produce this report and then the transparent decision to delay its release until the middle of an epic news cycle, is telling."

There are also investigations into political targeting being run by the Office of Special Counsel and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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