Investigators drop query into Zinke calls to Alaska senators

Interior Secretary Zinke posted this photo of Sen. Murkowski and him drinking two Alaska Brewing Company pale ales on Thursday. (Twitter photo from Ryan Zinke)
After a tense phone call, Interior Sec. Zinke posted this photo to show he and Sen. Murkowski on friendly terms. (Twitter photo from Ryan Zinke)

The inspector general’s office for the U.S. Interior Department has dropped its inquiry into whether the Interior secretary threatened to retaliate against Sen. Lisa Murkowski for voting against proceeding on a health care reform bill.

The IG’s office issued a letter saying Alaska’s U.S. senators declined to discuss the matter with investigators and further investigation would be pointless.

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Nancy DiPaolo, director of external affairs for the inspector general, says the office has no jurisdiction over Congress and she says investigators didn’t ask Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke what he told the senators in a pair of phone calls in late July.

“We thought it’d been in the press and because neither senator felt any need to pursue it,” she said.

Exactly what transpired in those calls isn’t known.

They came after Murkowski voted against proceeding with a Republican health care reform bill. President Trump took to Twitter to complain about her in the morning.

By afternoon, Zinke had called both U.S. senators. Sen. Dan Sullivan called the conversation troubling. He told a reporter for Alaska Dispatch News Zinke’s message was clear.

“I’m not going to go into the details,” Sullivan told the newspaper, “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.”

Murkowski said the secretary conveyed the president’s disappointment, but she told reporters she wanted to keep the details private.

A Murkowski spokeswoman says the senators had no reason to speak to the inspector general because Sec. Zinke did not threaten her. Sen. Sullivan’s spokesman did not respond by air time.

If Zinke’s call was an attempt to get Murkowski in line on health care, it didn’t work. She was one of three Republicans who voted with Democrats to block the so-called “skinny repeal.”

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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