Interior IG investigating Zinke's "threatening" phone calls to Alaska Senators

Last month we had Allahpundit with the coverage of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s supposed arm-twisting of both Alaska Senators over the health care bill. While we have confirmation that some phone calls took place, the “threatening” nature of them remains in dispute. Not enough dispute, however, to stop the department’s Inspector General’s office from opening an investigation into it. (Associated Press)

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog is examining phone calls to Alaska’s Republican senators from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking support for the GOP health care bill.

Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall says her office is launching a “preliminary investigation” of Zinke’s July 26 calls to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that Zinke warned the senators of repercussions for their state if Murkowski failed to support the bill.

Murkowski was one of three Republicans to vote against the bill, which later failed in the Senate. She said last week she did not consider the call from Zinke a threat.

First, how did this story not go away yet? The answer turns out to be that two Democratic congressmen (Pallone and Grijalva) requested that the IG and the GAO look into it. Their reason, as described, is fairly laughable from the hypocrisy angle. They want to know if there was an, “organized effort within the Trump administration involving the use of federal resources to advance partisan legislation.” Um… partisan legislation? The health care bill? I guess any bill your party doesn’t support is partisan legislation, but still… dudes. And what “resources” are we talking about here? I’m assuming they’re referring to the normal horsetrading which takes place when you’re trying to swing a few reluctant votes. (Unsuccessfully in this case.)

But in order to have any sort of actionable offense, you need to show the damages and the injured party. Keep in mind, as the Associated Press piece points out, Murkowski already said she didn’t consider the call a threat. Zinke called the charge “laughable” and tweeted a picture of them having beers together. That would be a tough case to make.

Far more likely is that this was some unusually handled wrangling. Let’s go back to what Allahpundit was speculating when the story first broke and compare it to what we know at this stage.

Zinke was a weird choice to make those phone calls for a variety of reasons. First of all, that job would usually go to a Bannon or a Kushner, depending whether you wanted to use the carrot or the stick. Also, Murkowski is on the committee that basically controls Zinke’s funding. Just how big of a baseball bat was he going to bring to that fight? She’s also safe in her seat until 2022 and, as AP pointed out, won it once already with zero, zilch, nada help from the GOP. If they tick her off too much she can tell them to go pound sand and probably do the same thing again.

So what’s the IG going to turn up? Assuming the Senators say in private what they’ve already said in public, not much. When all is said and done, this may just turn out to be yet another strange strategic move coming from a President who hasn’t been inside the swamp long enough to know how the game is “supposed to be played” and he just thought Zinke might be the best personality for the job. Sadly, he came up short, but it doesn’t sound like he broke any laws or really even the normal horsetrading rules of legislating in the effort.