WASHINGTON (AP) – A conservation group sued the Interior Department on Thursday seeking documents about decisions on endangered species the group alleges were tainted by political pressure from a former senior Interior official.

Julie MacDonald resigned as deputy assistant secretary in May amid questions about alleged interference in dozens of endangered species decisions, including at least one decision in which she stood to financially benefit.

The Center for Biological Diversity, in court papers filed Thursday, said the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to produce records on MacDonald and failed to respond to its requests in a timely fashion.

“This is a lawsuit we’ve been forced to file to receive documents that we’re entitled to that demonstrate the severity of Julie MacDonald’s involvement in overturning endangered species and habitat decisions,” said William Snape, the group’s senior counsel. Snape filed the suit under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hugh Vickery, a spokesman for the Interior Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

But he said the department has responded to a variety of requests for information on MacDonald, including from the Interior inspector general and the House Natural Resources Committee.

“We’re cooperating with all the official inquiries,” Vickery said. “As for what specific information any group has or has not received, we have FOIA officers who go through this stuff, and they do it for everybody.”

Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found the actions were tainted by political pressure from MacDonald, then the top official overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency acknowledged that its actions had been “inappropriately influenced” and that “revising the seven identified decisions is supported by scientific evidence and the proper legal standards.” The reversal affects the protection for species including the white-tailed prairie dog, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and the Canada lynx.

AP-ES-12-27-07 1302EST

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