President Donald Trump on Wednesday appears to have violated federal law when he displayed a modified National Hurricane Center “Cone of Uncertainty” forecast, dated from 11 a.m. on Aug. 29, that appears to have been altered with a Sharpie to indicate a risk the storm would move into Alabama from Florida.
“We had, actually, our original chart was that it was going to be hit — hitting Florida directly,” Trump said as he displayed the graphic with the added appendage extending the cone into southern portions of Alabama.
“That was the original chart,” Trump said. “It could’ve, uh, was going towards the Gulf.”
The altered graphic appeared to be an attempt to retroactively justify a tweet Trump issued over the weekend in which he falsely warned that Alabama would be impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” Trump falsely claimed on Sunday.
In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
The NWS responded 20 minutes later with a statement fact-checking Trump’s tweet: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
— NWS Birmingham (@NWSBirmingham) September 1, 2019
Journalists Dennis Mersereau and Jonathan Katz tweeted on Wednesday that they believe the president may have violated federal law by displaying the doctored graphic.
It is a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast and pass it off as official, as President Trump did here.
— Dennis Mersereau (@wxdam) September 4, 2019
The journalists pointed to 18 U.S. Code § 2074, which states that “whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.”
Al Roker made note of the violation during an appearance on MSNBC this afternoon. It “actually is against the law to put out an altered government forecast,” Roker explained.
Al Roker just stated on air that it is illegal to alter a government weather forecast. https://t.co/JDig4z0wNd
— Kevin Baron (@DefenseBaron) September 4, 2019
Asked about the altered hurricane forecast chart at a White House event on opioids Wednesday afternoon, Trump claimed that his briefings included a “95 percent chance probability” that Alabama would be hit.
When asked if the chart had been drawn on, Trump said: “I don’t know; I don’t know.”