A staff photographer for the Department of Energy was recently fired and is now seeking whistle-blower protection after he leaked photos of Secretary of Energy Rick Perry meeting with a major coal mining CEO.
Photographer Simon Edelman frequently followed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry as part of his official duties. One such meeting took place early last year, just a few weeks after Perry had taken the job, between him and coal executive Robert E. Murray, who was also a major donor to the Trump campaign. At the meeting, Edelman took several photographs, including one of Perry and Murray hugging, as well as a few of an "action plan" that Murray had brought along, detailing policy changes he wanted that were beneficial to the coal mining industry. Edelman shared the photos with some other journalists in September and they eventually made their way out, where they were held up as evidence of an inside track for the coal industry in policy-making.
Once it was revealed that Edelman took the photographs, he was fired, had his personal laptop and belongings seized, and was escorted from the federal headquarters. He, with the help of his lawyer, has now filed a complaint seeking federal whistle-blower protection, which is specifically offered by the Department of Energy where it notes "it is unlawful for agencies to take or threaten to take an adverse personnel action against an employee because he or she disclosed wrongdoing." During the meeting, Edelman notes he heard Murray say "this needs to be done" in regards to the plan he put forth (part of which was visible in the photographs and later became part of Perry's proposal six months later), to which Perry responded: "I think we can help you with this." Edelman noted he was startled by this and tried to hover in the room until his presence was eventually questioned. It wasn't until Perry revealed his proposal in September that Edelman noticed similarities between it and what he had seen in the meeting in March and decided to release the photos to help oppose it.
After being fired, an agency supervisor sent an email demanding that Edelman give over the administrative access to his photo storage, while in a recorded phone call, another employee said: "I would suggest that doing it sooner rather than later would probably be a good thing for you." As mentioned, Edelman has now retained a lawyer from Whistleblower Aid, who argues the photos were not classified and fall under public domain and is fighting the termination of his employment.
Lead image by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons.
[via New York Times]