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House Science Committee Flouts Ethics Rules By Promoting RNC Press Release As News

The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology promoted a GOP press release hailing President Donald Trump in its daily press clippings email, in a move that appears to bend House ethics rules.

The email, obtained by HuffPost, functions as an internal newsletter to inform staffers, committee members and their aides about news related to the committee’s work. But on Thursday, the first of 20 items in the email linked to a Republican National Committee memo entitled “Trump Remains Focused On His America First Agenda Despite Media’s Distractions.”

The roundup has included links from dubious sources before, including the British tabloid the Daily Mail, right-wing outlet Breitbart News and RT, a Kremlin-funded propaganda network. But a source with knowledge of the situation said this is the first time the email distributed Republican campaign materials.

House ethics rules prohibit “using official resources for campaign or political purposes.”

House Science Committee

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment. Kristina Baum, a House Science Committee spokeswoman, blamed the algorithm used to populate stories on the email roundup, but said the including the link didn’t break any rules. 

“The results curated from our automated clip service send keyword mentions to our committee on a daily basis,” Baum wrote in an email to HuffPost. “The article mentioned appears to conform with our understanding of House ethics rules, based on conversations with the House Ethics office.”

The Center for Responsible Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, told HuffPost the rules are hazy on internal resources like the newsletter. 

“If there is an issue with it, it is probably pretty minor,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman told HuffPost by email. “Essentially, this falls into a gray area, as it’s not linking to something explicitly political.”

The House science committee, once an oasis of compromise and amity between lawmakers of both parties, became a hotbed of partisanship after Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was named chairman in 2012. Emboldened by Trump’s election last year, Smith, a vehement climate change denier, has used his gavel to harass federal climate scientists and issue subpoenas to litigators investigating Exxon Mobil Corp.’s suppression of climate change research.

Since the election, the committee has gained a reputation for promoting dubious information as news. In December, its official Twitter account linked to a blog post on the right-wing outlet Breitbart News taunting “climate alarmists” with misinterpreted weather data. In February, the committee cited a swiftly debunked story in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, in a press release alleging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “manipulated climate records.” 

In a twist, Lamar smeared Science, the prestigious 137-year-old magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as not “objective” during a hearing in March.

“The science committee used to be a low-key, bipartisan committee that accomplished a lot of positive things for the scientific community at large,” Yogin Kothari, Washington representative for the nonpartisan Union of Concerned Scientists, told HuffPost by phone. “Under Chairman Smith’s leadership, it’s really become a site for a heated partisan battle.”

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