Interior Dept. watchdog investigating Zinke’s involvement in real estate development
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has formally opened an investigation into reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was involved in a real estate deal in his hometown and met with a Halliburton executive about that deal in his office in Washington.
The investigation was requested by House Democrats on committees with oversight of the Interior Department who say that Zinke’s conversation with the executive and developers on the project could violate ethics rule about using his office for personal gain.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a letter to the inspector general that Zinke met with Halliburton CEO David Lesar and a developer for the project in his office at Interior, raising questions about whether Zinke was still involved in a foundation that the department said he recused himself from.
“Secretary Zinke doesn’t seem to take his responsibility to the public seriously,” Grijalva said Thursday in a statement about the investigation. “He’s turned it into the Ryan Zinke show, which is more about waving his own flag above the building and doing personal business deals with his friends instead of protecting public lands and improving our environmental quality.”
Grijalva’s letter, also signed by Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., cited a Politico report that first reported the real estate deal.
Zinke confirmed that he met with Halliburton Chairman David Lesar and his son about the background of the project in an interview this week.
“We go out to dinner. We talk about the background of the park. What are the neighbors like, what was the vision of the park, where the boundaries are, where the water table is, because the water table has changed over time, what the railroad is — you know, so they have the background,” Zinke said in an interview on Voices of Montana radio show. “And clearly, I’m not on the board anymore. My wife runs the board. And they make a letter of intent for my wife that, you know what, the community is for this project. The city approves it. It’s a good project for Whitefish. We’ll share some parking lots with you. That’s it.”
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