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Former DOE employee files whistleblower complaint after being fired for leaked photo

[JURIST] A former Department of Energy (DOE) [official website] has filed a whistleblower complaint claiming that he was fired after releasing controversial photographs [In These Times report] of Energy Secretary Rick Perry [official website] embracing coal executive Robert Murray during a private meeting last March.

During the meeting, Simon Edelman [official profile] also took photographs of a memo that allegedly outlined the steps coal executives hoped the Trump administration would take to help the coal industry. That memo, Edelman alleges, led to a proposal by Perry to require electric grid operators to pay more money to coal and nuclear power plants. In November Edelman sent the photographs to In These Times and The Washington Post [media websites], both of whom published the photographs shortly thereafter. According to the complaint, Edelman was put on paid leave the day following the publication of the photographs.

Edelman filed the complaint with the DOE's Inspector General [official website] on January 4. In a statement attached to the complaint, Edelman said that the terms of his administrative leave required him to call in to his office ever morning. On one such morning, Edelman called in and another DOE employee demanded that he either turn over the administrative rights to his google drive which contained the pictures or that he himself delete the folders in the drive. Edelman allegedly told the employee that he was not comfortable deleting the materials but the employee told him to delete the materials by the end of the business day or they would send someone to his home to watch him delete the materials.

Edelman's employment was then fully terminated twenty days after being placed on leave.

Following his termination Edelman hired attorney John Tye, a former whistle-blower from the Department of State who now works for Whistleblower Aid [advocacy website], a nonprofit firm that specializes in whistle-blower protection claims.

In the complaint, Tye argues that Edelman's photographs were not classified but rather in the public domain, that his termination was in retaliation for "exercising his First Amendment rights" in releasing the photographs to the press, and that the photographs he took, combined with Perry allegedly telling Murray "I think we can help you with this" is sufficient probable cause to open a criminal investigation into Perry's conduct.

Numerous senators have reached out to Edelman [ThinkProgress report] stating their support for an investigation into the DOE and Perry's conduct.

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