Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke meets with leaders of Pueblo tribes in New Mexico on July 28, 2017. "Honored to meet w/ All Pueblo Council of Governors. This is just the first of many gvmt to gvmt meetings," a post on Twitter read. Photo: Secretary Zinke
Health | National | Politics

Investigation sought into Secretary Zinke's calls to Senators from Alaska

Democrats and outside organizations are calling for an investigation into Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke over calls he made to the two U.S. Senators from Alaska.

According to The Alaska Dispatch News, Zinke called Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, on Wednesday and pressured them to vote for a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He said Alaska's priorities were at risk with the new administration if they did not support the controversial effort, the paper reported.

"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan told The News.

The threat didn't work, at least with respect to Murkowski. She cast a key vote against H.R.1628, the American Health Care Act, early Friday morning, ensuring defeat for the measure.

Democrats are now asking the Office of Inspector General at Interior, as well as the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether Zinke violated any federal laws. They note that his calls came after President Donald Trump went after Murkowski on Twitter.

“The close timing of these actions suggests an apparent pattern and organized effort within the Trump Administration involving the use of federal resources to advance partisan legislation," Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote in a letter to the Inspector General. "We request your office investigate whether such a pattern or organized effort exists, whereby Secretary Zinke is advocating for health care proposals pending before Congress.”

The Western Values Project is also seeking information about the contacts between Zinke and lawmakers through a Freedom of Information Act request. The group said it will file a lawsuit if necessary to obtain the information.

Murkowski was the first woman to serve as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and she continues to sit on the panel. She currently chairs the Senate Committee on Energy, which exercises jurisdiction over key programs and nominees at Interior, as well as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which controls Interior's funding levels.

Read More on the Story:
Democrats urge investigations into Trump administration efforts to pressure Murkowski (Alaska Dispatch News 7/28)
Murkowski: ‘Where is the focus on policy? Where is the focus on reform?’ (Alaska Dispatch News 7/28)
U.S. Lawmaker Requests Investigation Into Threat to Alaska Senators Over Healthcare Vote (Reuters 7/28)
Democrats vow investigation, lawsuit over ‘political blackmail’ against Murkowski (Politico 7/27)
Murkowski says she’s not swayed by pressure from Trump administration over health vote (Alaska Dispatch News 7/27)
Trump administration threatens retribution against Alaska over Murkowski health votes (Alaska Dispatch News 7/27)

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