Interior watchdog reviewing Zinke's calls to Alaska senators

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WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Raul Grijalva of Arizona asked Kendall and the Government Accountability Office to review Zinke's actions, which they said appeared to be part of an "organized effort within the Trump administration involving the use of federal resources to advance partisan legislation."

A spokeswoman for Zinke declined to comment Friday.

Zinke has called the notion that he threatened Murkowski "laughable," but he tweeted a photo Thursday of himself and Murkowski smiling over Alaskan beers at his Washington home. "I say dinner, she says brews. My friends know me well," Zinke wrote, adding a beer emoji and "thanks" to Murkowski.

Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has say over Interior Department business and nominations, and leads a Senate Appropriations subcommittee with authority over Interior's budget.

The energy committee approved three department nominees on Thursday, hours after the beer summit at Zinke's home, as well as two nominees for the Energy Department.

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