The Western Values Project (WVP) filed suit requesting documents from the Department of the Interior related to threats Secretary Ryan Zinke made to Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. The suit comes after the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the department abruptly ended an investigation into the incidents. The Interior Department has failed to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by WVP in July.
A copy of the suit is available here.
“Government investigators may give up when officials refuse to talk, but we will not,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “First Secretary Zinke used his office to do the bidding of political cronies, and now it appears he is using it to shut down investigations. Is this Washington, D.C. or Moscow? We will not allow Secretary Zinke or the Interior Department to sweep this under the rug and pretend it is politics as usual. This is just another example of how Zinke has given up his Montana values to do the bidding of special interests in Washington.”
The original FOIA letter was filed on July 27, the day after the Alaska Dispatch News reported that both Senators Murkowski and Sullivan received threatening phone calls from Secretary Zinke, signaling that Senator Murkowski’s vote against a health care bill could “put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.”
The phone calls came after President Trump tweeted that “Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”
Leading Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall concluded that her office “could [not] meaningfully investigate the matter further” after both Senators Murkowski and Sullivan refused to answer questions or provide statements.
The suit seeks to make all records related to calls between Secretary Zinke and Senators Murkowski and Sullivan public. Western Values Project is being represented on a pro bono basis by lawyers at Democracy Forward Foundation.