Trump blindsided staff with promise to halt elephant trophy imports

Articles The Hill

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A series of tweets President Trump sent in November promising to halt imports of elephant trophies blindsided staffers in his own administration and cut off months of planning to ease the import process, newly released emails show.

Trump’s tweet to put “on hold” the highly controversial imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia, a day after it was announced that African elephant trophies would be allowed into the U.S for the first time since 2014, led to widespread public backlash from lawmakers in both parties, animal rights groups and conservative figures such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

But it also caused a frantic panic among key staff members closely involved in drafting the rule changes.

Emails from officials in the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its parent agency, the Interior Department, show that they had been planning to lift the ban on bringing tusks and other parts of elephants killed in hunts into the country for months, and did not expect the backlash from the public, let alone the president.

The turmoil among public affairs staffers in FWS and Interior started a half hour after Trump’s initial tweet the evening of Nov. 17, emails obtained by The Hill under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Paul Ross, a public affairs specialist at Interior, notified his colleagues of the tweet, saying, “Just making sure you saw this.”

Within minutes, Gavin Shire, the head spokesman at FWS, asked the group if he should take down a website posting from earlier that evening saying that the ban was lifted.

By the next morning, a Saturday, the situation wasn’t any clearer for Interior staff. Heather Swift, press secretary at Interior, warned employees not to “engage” with the issue on social media, while an exasperated Shire declared, “I can’t keep up with these people!”