A whistleblower leaked a photograph of a private meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a coal baron who's also a major Republican donor. Now he's being threatened.
Photographer Simon Edelman used to work for the Department of Energy, headed former Texas governor and failed presidential candidate Rick Perry.
But then Edelman leaked photographs of a secret meeting between Perry and Robert E. Murray, the owner of a major coal mining operation, and a longtime Republican donor and supporter of Donald Trump. The pictures show Perry and Murray embracing and exchanging an "action plan" drafted by Murray essentially, a list Murray's list of demands for changes to policy and regulations he wanted that would benefit the coal industry.
"It seemed like that was the right thing to do exercising my First Amendment rights to get the information out there," Edelman told The New York Times.
After those photos surfaced, Edelman was let go. The Department of Energy seized his personal laptop and escorted him out of his office in the department's Washington, D.C., headquarters. His employment agreement was terminated, even though he was supposed to be employedfor two more years.
Then, according to a complaint filed with the inspector general of the Department of Energy, the threats started.
In his complaint, Edelman alleges that the agency is retaliating against him after he exposed the meeting and its agenda. He writes that a supervisor told him in an email to give the agency the administrative rights to the Google Drive where he stored the photos, which would have allowed them to be deleted. Another person at the department reportedly told him over the phone that "we can come to your home and have someone watch you delete it."
In one phone call that was recorded, an official at the Energy Department pushed for him to turn over the drive and said, "I would suggest that doing it sooner rather than later would probably be a good thing for you."
Photos taken by government employees as part of their official duties are in fact in the public domain, and do not belong to any specific agency, the head of the agency, or the president and his administration.
Edelman alerted Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) about the department's actions, and now they're pushing for the department, and Perry, to come clean about why the photographer was really fired.
It's not difficult to understand why such a meeting would be a huge embarrassment for the Perry, the Energy Department, and the Trump administration.
He contributed $300,000 to Trump's inauguration and personally held a fundraiser for him during the campaign. Before that, he also financially supported Perry's political career.
After the Sago Mine disaster in 2006 where 12 miners were killed and only one survived, Murray lobbied against the push in West Virginia to pass safety legislation.
His company, Murray Energy, operated the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah that collapsed in 2007, trapping six miners. Before the collapse, the mine had received 64 violations and racked up $12,000 in fines.
After President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, Murray laid off 156 workers and alleged that the Obama administration was engaged in a "war on coal."
He has also has long been a fixture on right-wing outlets like Fox News.
It is the troubling track record of someone involved in the mining business, let alone exerting an undue influence on the entire Department of Energy, the presidency, and the government. Murray is not someone who should have that kind of influence over the lives of mine workers, who have already gotten a raw deal from Trump after a campaign of absurd promises.
The Trump administration is in bed with the worst of the worst of corporate America. Trump and his team have shown time and again that they will not hesitate to cover up and hide massive corruption. In this case, it seems the Energy Department is willing to go so far as to threaten a whistleblower who dared to tell the truth about it.