Interior watchdog launches ‘preliminary investigation’ into Zinke calls

Interior watchdog launches ‘preliminary investigation’ into Zinke calls
© Greg Nash

The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) says it has begun a “preliminary investigation” into reports that Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: OPEC strikes deal to boost crude production | Pruitt sent one work email outside EPA in first 10 months | Perry, oil execs head to gas conference Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon MORE made phone calls pushing Alaska's senators to support a GOP healthcare bill or risk losing federal support for economic development efforts in their state.

“The OIG is undertaking a preliminary investigation into this matter,” Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said in a letter to two House Democrats on Thursday.

“We will advise you about what further action the results of this inquiry lead the OIG to take.”

The Interior Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) had asked the Inspector General and other government investigators to probe Zinke’s calls to Alaska Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHeitkamp ad highlights record as Senate race heats up Icebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (R) and Dan Sullivan (R) ahead of last week’s vote on a GOP healthcare bill. 

Zinke reportedly threatened obstructing federal economic development work in the state if Murkowski didn’t drop her opposition to the bill. She ended up voting against every GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare last week.

Murkowski has downplayed the incident and Zinke has shrugged it off, saying it’s “laughable” that he would threaten Alaska over healthcare. 

On Thursday morning, Zinke tweeted a picture of the pair drinking beers together, calling Murkowski a “friend.”