Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
Published July 19, 2018
WASHINGTON — POLITICO reported on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office, the department’s internal watchdog. The investigation is looking into a real estate deal involving a foundation established by Zinke and developers including Halliburton Chairman David Lesar.
The investigation will determine whether Zinke violated conflict of interest laws duing his tenure while leading the Interior Deparment, which is one of the most important federal posts to American Indians and Alaska Natives because the Interior department houses Indian Affairs, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education.
On Tuesday, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and two other top Natural Resources Committee Democrats sent a letter to the Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General requesting an investigation into ZInke real estate dealings. The letter points to internal DOI emails and a Zinke official schedule, revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests, showing that Zinke met with Montana property developers in his secretarial office.
According to a June 19 Politico report, a property development group funded by Halliburton chairman David Lesar is planning a large commercial development in Whitefish, Montana – Zinke’s home town – that would substantially increase the value of property Zinke owns. In addition to Zinke’s private property, the planned development is adjacent to a parcel owned by a foundation Zinke started but claims to have left in 2017.
The Grijalva-led letter includes previously unreported emails showing that Zinke met with Lesar; Lesar’s son John; and Montana developer Casey Malmquist in his secretarial office from approximately 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 3, 2017. His official calendar for that day, which is routinely released to the public, withholds the meeting’s attendees and subject matter. It remains unclear whether Malmquist and the Lesars were Zinke’s guests for the “Lincoln Tour” and “Dinner” immediately following the meeting.
Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, told theWashington Examiner on June 20 that Zinke has nothing to do with the foundation, whose property the developers hope to use as a parking lot: “In accordance with all federal ethics guidelines, the secretary resigned from his position with the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park in March 2017.” If that date is correct, it remains unclear why Zinke met with Malmquist and the Lesars in August, five months after leaving the foundation, or why he forwarded his secretary Caroline Boulton an email from Malmquist in September speaking approvingly of “our development plan and your park project.”