Trump appointees discriminated against Iranian-American employee because of her heritage, watchdog finds

State Department's top Iran official retaliated against a long-time staffer because of her Iranian heritage and perceived political bias, following a smear campaign on conservative outlets

Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, stands in front of an Iranian missile.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, stands in front of an Iranian missile.

Donald Trump’s appointees at the State Department discriminated against an Iranian-American employee because of her national heritage, the department’s watchdog has concluded.

As a result, the Inspector General (IG) report has recommended disciplinary action against Brian Hook, Mr Trump’s top representative for Iran.

The report describes Mr Hook’s ethnic discrimination and political targeting of a long-time State Department employee, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who has worked for the US government for 15 years under Republican and Democratic Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump. She was removed from a senior policy role on Iran by Mr Hook.

The removal came after a smear campaign of conservative outlets and political figures against Ms Nowrouzzadeh, accusing her of political bias against the policies of President Trump due to her Iranian heritage and her work under President Obama.

Emails have shown that State Department officials falsely claimed that Ms Nowrouzzadeh, a career civil servant, was born in Iran and “cried” when President Trump was elected.

Ms Nowrouzzadeh, who has taken an unpaid leave from the department following these incidents, reacted to the report saying she hopes this will “guard against any further such misconduct” by members of this or any administration.

Joel Rubin, a former State Department official said it is “obscene” that anybody be judged for their professional skills because of their ethnic background. “If that were the case, no American of English or German heritage should work on European policy, no American of Asian heritage could work on Asia policy, and no American of Jewish heritage could work on Israel or the Middle East,” he told The Independent.

“I am a Democrat but when I served at State Department, I left my political views at the door.

I served in the Bush administration and won three awards for my work. Although it may be hard for these political appointees to believe that there can be career professionals who don’t bring political bias into the work,” Mr Rubin added.

Mr Rubin said that this goes to the theme of impeachment, as we saw in the testimonies of George Kent and Bill Taylor, that civil servants career professionals can be independent and work effectively for the American people.

It is already difficult for women and ethnic minorities to rise through the ranks of foreign policy in an industry that has been long dominated by white men. And experts warn that such incidents would have a chilling effect on diversity and inclusion in politics.

Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at Harvard University who has Iranian heritage herself, said the smear campaign against Ms Nowrouzzadeh and the administration's efforts to push her out are reprehensible. “This type of thing will have long term consequences for young Americans from different and minority backgrounds contemplating a career in the public service: why put themselves at risk of the type of smear campaign faced by Sahar?” Ms Esfandiary told The Independent.

Prominent Iranian-American organisations have also reacted to the report and condemned the State Department.

The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) in Washington said: "At a time when over 70% of Iranian-Americans are concerned about increased discrimination based on their national origin and ethnicity, this treatment serves to validate the Iranian American community's worst fears.”

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council criticised the Trump administration saying they have “Banned Iranians from this country, sanctioned food and medicine in Iran, funded an organisation dedicated to political attacks on Iranian Americans, and demoted a civil servant because of her Iranian heritage.”

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In June, The Independent reported that the State Department granted $1.5m to an online campaign that targeted Iranian-Americans critical of the Trump administration’s hard-line Iran policy, and accused critics of being loyal to the Tehran regime.

Critics have called on the State Department to add more intensive accountability mechanisms and safe-guards in order to prevent future ethnic discrimination and political retaliation against employees.

T Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department’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."

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