The FBI has begun investigating a controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy to rebuild a 100-mile stretch of transmission lines in Puerto Rico.
The FBI field office in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan has begun probing the circumstances surrounding the no-bid contract between the state-run utility company Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Whitefish, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing three people familiar with the matter.
Many top Republican and Democratic lawmakers last week called for investigations into the deal. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hails from the same Montana town as the energy firm, which had two sparking concern that the contract may have been influenced by President Trump's Cabinet.
Whitefish has hired former Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat, to lobby on the company's behalf on Capitol Hill, Politico reported. Cardoza said he said he would "meet people on the Hill" to make the case that the energy firm had fairly won the multi-million dollar contract. The former "Blue Dog" Democrat did not provide further details.
The White House and Zinke came out forcefully Friday to distance themselves from the deal, saying the Puerto Rican utility secured the deal with the company, not the federal government.
Zinke invited the Interior Department's inspector general to look into the matter.
PREPA on Sunday announced it had scrapped the deal with the energy firm.
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on Sunday welcomed the cancellation of the contract. However, she said an investigation "to determine how we got into this situation in the first place must continue."
Cantwell had previously called on the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, to start an investigation into the deal. A leaked version of the contract stipulated that Whitefish's work could not be audited or reviewed by government agencies.
"Taxpayers should pay a fair rate for the emergency repairs Puerto Rico desperately needs — not be gouged by Whitefish Energy or anyone else," Cantwell said. "I am calling on the president and [the Federal Emergency Management Administration] to ensure this cancellation results in no delay in restoring power to millions of American families in Puerto Rico."
House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrapped up a tour of Puerto Rico and other hurricane-ravaged areas on Sunday. He said in a statement that restoring electricity service in the U.S. territory should be a top priority but made no mention of the PREPA contract cancellation.