A Department of Energy photographer, who was fired after leaking photos of Secretary Rick Perry’s meeting with a big coal tycoon, has filed a complaint with the department’s Inspector General, according to the photographer, his attorney and a copy of the complaint shared with TPM.
Photographer Simon Edelman published “public domain” photos of Perry meeting with Robert Murray of Murray Energy on In These Times — a left-leaning magazine.
The leaked photos are from a March 2017 meeting and show Perry giving Murray a “gigantic bear hug,” Edelman told TPM. They also reveal action items on a memo Murray presented to Perry that proposed policy and energy regulation changes that would favor the coal industry.
Agency officials took Edelman’s laptop after the photos were published and put him on paid administrative leave. He was told to either delete the photos he had taken of the meeting or give the agency the rights to his Google drive account so they could access the pictures. Edelman said a supervisor had been “threatening” to come to his home and “watch me over my shoulders delete the photos.”
After he refused, he was told his employment contract would not be renewed, putting him out of work at the end of December, according to the complaint, which was first reported by The New York Times. Edelman told TPM that he still hasn’t been told why he was fired.
Edelman’s lawyer, John Tye, a former attorney for the State Department, claims his client was wrongfully terminated for sharing the photos. As a federal employee, Edelman’s work is not protected under copyright law and his photos are part of the public domain, Tye said. He also argued Edelman’s job should be protected under the privileges awarded to federal whistleblowers, given his intent in releasing the photos was to point out alleged public corruption.
After Murray ran through the points of his proposal during the meeting, Perry told Murray, “I think we can help you with this,” according to Edelman, who said that comment and the pair’s friendly behavior were initial “red flags.”
This week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted against the Perry-proposed “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule,” which would have put the energy market in a position that favors coal and nuclear power plants over clean energy competitors due to their ability to store fuel on-site, which, Perry claimed is vital in the event that the power grid fails. The proposal included language that mirrored the proposal Murray gave Perry in March, a move that Tye told TPM could amount to public corruption.
“The meeting’s over and Perry comes out with this proposed rule with language that mimics Bob Murray’s proposal,” Tye said. “They both used the same language to come up with a fake solution to a fake problem — that is the energy grid reliability problem, that power grids fail because power plants run out of fuel. That’s not true.”
Tye asked the Inspector General to open an internal ethics investigation into Perry and give Edelman his job and laptop back. He also suggested Congress open an investigation into corruption within the Energy Department and said the FBI should open a criminal investigation into Murray and Perry for public corruption.
The agency’s Inspector General has received Edelman’s complaint and is “in the process of reviewing it to determine what actions will be taken next,” media liaison Felicia Jones told TPM Thursday.
The IG’s office later Thursday sent a second statement to TPM: “The OIG is aware of various media reports related to Mr. Edelman and his involvement with the Department of Energy. We must adhere to our normal practice of neither confirming nor denying the existence of an OIG matter.”
Read the complaint below:
This story has been updated.