The top Democrat on the House Science Committee on Thursday assailed Chairman Lamar Smith’s assertion that a groundbreaking global warming study was rushed to publication by federal scientists as an “after-the-fact attempt to justify a fishing expedition.”

In a scathing letter to Smith (R-Tex.), a prominent congressional global warming skeptic, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) said his claims that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration altered historical climate data are “the most outrageous statements ever made by a Chair of the Committee on Science.”

“In one fell swoop, you have accused a host of different individuals of wrongdoing,” Johnson wrote. “…All of these indictments are conjured out of thin air, without you presenting any factual basis for these sweeping accusations — exposing this so-called ‘investigation’ for what it truly is: a witch hunt designed to smear the reputations of eminent scientists for partisan gain.”

Johnson’s attack on the committee chairman is the latest salvo in the feud between Smith and the Obama administration over new research showing that the global warming “pause” actually is not a pause. The letter also underscores that, in a bitterly divided Congress, partisan divisions between Democrats and Republicans on the House  Committee on Science, Space, and Technology seem to be at an all-time high.

In an e-mail to The Washington Post on Friday, Smith claimed that Johnson is “not interested”  in investigating government waste and wrongdoing.

“The Ranking Member did not join me in conducting oversight when the EPA spilled millions of gallons of toxic waste into a river, when federal employees structured their own post-retirement consulting contracts that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even when a methamphetamine lab blew up on the campus of an agency in this Committee’s jurisdiction,” Smith wrote. “The Ranking Member has repeatedly shown she is not interested in investigating government waste.  Partisan political allegiance to the Obama administration should never trump the Science Committee’s crucial oversight role or taxpayers’ best interests.”

Smith subpoenaed four top NOAA officials several weeks ago seeking internal e-mails and documents regarding a blockbuster June study by its scientists that had appeared to erase the notion of a global warming “pause.” The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Scienceundercut a long-held argument made by global warming skeptics.

NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan has refused to comply with the subpoena. She agreed to Smith’s demand that the officials, including two scientists who led the study, the agency’s chief of staff and communications director, sit for transcribed interviews by committee staff.

But Smith canceled those planned interviews this week after he said whistleblowers have come forward to the committee with evidence that some NOAA scientists had concerns about the research. According to Smith, these scientists had cause to believe their colleagues were “rushing” the study into publication.

The congressman has appealed to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker in two letters to force NOAA to provide its internal communications and threatened to subpoena her if they are not produced Friday.

NOAA officials have strongly denied that the study was rushed into publication, citing a long review process both internally and by peer reviewers at Science.

Also this week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut who flew with Sullivan on two missions, defended her decision not to release e-mails.

“I don’t think scientists will be intimidated by the subpoenas and everything else,” Bolden told Ars Technica.

“That may be its intent, but I don’t think it will work,” he said of Smith’s inquiry. “It’s peoples’ life’s work, and they’re not just going to walk away because somebody threatens them with a subpoena to appear before the Congress of the United States. They’ll probably welcome it, to be quite honest.”