Report: Trump Interior Secretary Violated Federal Ethics Rules

Ryan Zinke allegedly participated in commercial negotiations with real estate developers and lied about it to an ethics official.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah.Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News/AP

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The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General released a damning report Wednesday on former Trump Interior secretary and current congressional candidate Ryan Zinke, finding that he had repeatedly violated federal ethics rules by participating in commercial negotiations with real estate developers who stood to benefit from policies he helped implement. 

As Interior Secretary, Zinke was a major supporter of coal and gas drilling on public lands. His brief, 21-month tenure was plagued by scandals, with officials opening no-less than 15 investigations into his extravagant managing style. He also became known for idiosyncratic behavior, commissioning personal commemorative coins to give to visitors, ordering his staff to hoist and lower the department’s flag when he entered and exited the building, riding a horse named Tonto across the National Mall, and installing an arcade game that featured hunting in a common area. 

But the Interior Department’s investigation centered on a more run-of-the-mill issue. While Zinke was in office, he reportedly attended meetings with developers, including a Halliburton executive, concerning a planned commercial development called 95 Karrow on land owned by Zinke’s family’s nonprofit foundation. According to Politico—the first outlet to break the news that Zinke had participated in the negotiations—the deal could also have allowed Zinke and his wife to own and operate a microbrewery on the site. 

Zinke reportedly represented his foundation for over a year in over 64 text messages and emails, even though he had told federal officials that he would resign as president of the foundation and refrain from doing any work on its behalf. 

“In light of these communications, we found that Secretary Zinke failed to abide by his ethics obligations in which he committed not to manage or provide any other services to the Foundation after his appointment as Secretary of the Interior,” the report states. 

On top of all that, the report alleges that Zinke had ordered his staff to arrange an in-person meeting with the developers in his office on August 3, 2017, and that he later gave them a personal tour of the Lincoln Memorial. Zinke also allegedly lied to an agency ethics official, saying that the meeting with the developers was “purely social” and that his involvement in the negotiations was minimal. 

However, the report didn’t find any evidence that Zinke, a leading Republican candidate in a Montana congressional race, had used his position in service of his or Halliburton’s financial gain. The department wrote that it had referred the case to the Biden Department of Justice, which declined to prosecute. 

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Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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