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: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use Interior secretary met with tribal lawyer attached to Zinke casino dispute Zinke joins board of small gold mining company 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.

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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 MurkowskiCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America 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.”