WASHINGTON - A State Department employee working on Iranian policy was improperly removed from her post by officials who took into account her ethnic background, perceived political views and prior role in the Obama administration, according to a report Thursday from the agency's inspector general.
The internal watchdog's report recommends internal discipline for officials involved in removing the employee in the early days of the Trump administration.
The employee, who had worked for the State Department since 2012, was assigned in July 2016 to a one-year stint in the agency's office of policy planning. But officials grew concerned the following March when a website called Conservative Review published an article identifying the employee as a "trusted Obama aide" who had been an architect for that administration's agreement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.
That article was forwarded to department officials at least four times. One official wrote in an email: "As background, she worked on the Iran Deal, specifically works on Iran ... was born in Iran and upon my understanding cried when the President won."
The official, Julia Haller, the acting White House liaison, said that she added the comment about the employee's place of birth because she thought it could raise conflict of interest questions since the person was assigned to work on Iran policy. She also said her characterization of the person's reaction to Trump's win was likely based on office gossip but that she included it because she thought it went to questions of loyalty.
The inspector general report does not name the employee, but it matches the description of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who was the subject of the Conservative Review article. Nowrouzzadeh did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.
A senior State Department official mentioned in the report denied that he took improper action. In a detailed response attached to the report, Brian Hook, wrote that he did not take into account any improper factors when he made the decision to reassign Nowrouzzadeh. He said he selected his own expert for the position based on qualifications, as he was entitled to do.
"When I decided three days into my job to meet with the Candidate, I did not know Employee One's political beliefs, her service in the Bush and Obama Administrations, or her national origin," Hook wrote. "I did not care. This is true not only for Employee One but for every person I inherited on the Policy Planning staff and for every person I have ever worked with during 12 years of Federal public service."
The inspector general found no wrongdoing in the reassignment of two other employees and made no conclusion in two other cases it examined.