On July 25, 2017, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of just two Republicans to vote against an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The next day, President Trump attacked Senator Murkowski for her vote, tweeting “Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday.  Too bad!”

Following President Trump’s tweet, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called both Senator Murkowski and Alaska’s other Senator Dan Sullivan, and informed them that Senator Murkowski’s vote had “put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy,” according to Alaska Dispatch News.

While the exact content of Secretary Zinke’s threats is unknown, Senator Sullivan described his call with Secretary Zinke as “troubling” and said that “the message was pretty clear.”  He told the Alaska Dispatch News that “the Interior secretary was clear that his message was in response to the no vote Murkowski cast . . . on the House-passed health care legislation.”

The Department of the Interior controls the use of federally-owned lands, including for petroleum drilling and infrastructure development, both of which have been key policy concerns for Senators Murkowski and Sullivan.  Senator Sullivan said the call from Zinke led him to “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.”

While President Trump has long used his Twitter account to attack those who disagree with him, using the weight of an Executive Agency to threaten retaliation against a member of Congress is a troubling development.

To uncover the Trump Administration’s efforts to threaten a United States Senator and monitor any potential retaliatory action that might result from Senator Murkowski’s health care vote, Democracy Forward filed suit on behalf of Western Values Project, a non-profit that works to promote transparent, commonsense approaches to energy development on public lands. The suit was filed after the Department of Interior refused to reveal records and correspondence related to Secretary Zinke’s threats, and after the Department’s Office of the Inspector General halted its investigation into the incident.

Jeffrey Dubner

Deputy Legal Director

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions, abuses of power, and threats to democracy on behalf of those who are harmed.

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