The Dept of Interior Inspector General Office has forwarded findings of one of its investigations to the DOJ for investigation.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has been plagued with scandal since being confirmed. He was under four investigations, one of which a report was just released, but it is the remaining ones that are even more serious.
Controversy has followed Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke since he was confirmed March 2017 and is currently under four investigative probes by the DOI OIG for a range of behaviors from “a Montana investment deal involving land owned by a foundation connected to Zinke and his wife” for a commercial deal involving a Haliburton chairman to “blocking a casino project in Connecticut proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes after Zinke met with lobbyists for MGM Resorts International” to a probe into “how Zinke and his aides redrew the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument” which impacted the private property owned by Mike Noel (R) who is a retiring state representative, to “looking into … whether Interior Department officials should have allowed Zinke’s wife, Lola, a Republican Party activist and consultant to travel with her husband on official business,” which is against department policy.
TNB; Oct 19 2018
It was the latter of the above list of investigations that DOI-OIG released their report over traveling and other issues. The other three investigations are still on-going.
ICYMI, you can read the background on this here, and here. Not only is Zinke caught up in these investigations, there is a possibility Zinke was purposely trying to get rid of the current DOI-OIG Mary Kendall when there was an attempt to move political appointee Suzanne Tufts from Ben Carson’s HUD in a sideways move to avoid the nomination and confirmation hearings process to replace Kendall as Interior’s inspector general.
Tufts was the Trump administration’s political appointee to HUD who replaced Helen Foster, the senior HUD official who “first raised alarms about Sec of HUD Ben Carson’s redecorating expenses” who, after a year, resigned in protest, Foster says, because Carson and Patenaude [HUD Deputy Secretary] “demoted her and accused her of being a liar” and put her in a “do-nothing” job for a year with no official duties.
According to a new Washington Post report out Tuesday, “The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred one of its probes into the conduct of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department for further investigation, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.”
Zinke’s own agency watchdog just referred him to the Justice Department https://t.co/iyQzMryCVM
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 30, 2018
A referral to the Justice Department means prosecutors will explore whether a criminal investigation is warranted. While an agency’s inspector general regularly issues reports on the findings of its inquiries, it refers cases to the Justice Department only when it has determined that there could be criminal violations.
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said the White House understands that the investigation is looking into whether the secretary “used his office to help himself.”
Washington Post; Oct 30 2018
It is not known which of the remaining investigations it was that was turned over to the DOJ.
As Interior Secretary, Zinke sits in one of the most powerful cabinet positions. This is a position that is ripe for corruption considering the policies and rules the Interior Department controls from oil and gas leases to federal land deals.
The Montana land deal Zinke is being investigated for involves Halliburton chairman David Lesar and a land development deal Lesar is involved in and several parcels of land owned by Zinke and his wife, Lola, which are control by a “foundation” called Great Northern Veterans Peace Park where Zinke was president. Zinke stepped down from that position before joining the administration, according to a story Politico ran back in June. FOI documents Politico obtained show Zinke, as Secretary, met with Lesar.
On the casino deal, according to the Washington Post report, sources, “who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still underway,” have said that the inspector general has subpoenaed MGM documents.
There is no mention at this time about the investigation into how Zinke and his aides redrew the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument which impacted the private property owned by Mike Noel (R).
Political opponents are attempting to capitalize on all the allegations surrounding Zinke. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who is the “top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and one of the lawmakers who asked the inspector general to investigate the Montana land deal,” said if given the House they will call Zinke to testify.
As to the fallout over the recently released Interior inspector general’s report:
Separately Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) wrote Zinke urging him “to immediately cease any efforts to use the office of the Secretary of the Interior for personal gain and fully reimburse the public for your private use of public resources.” Citing the recent inspector general’s report, they questioned why Zinke invited former donors as official guests last year on a trip to California’s Channel Islands and asked his aides to look into designating his wife as a department volunteer.
Washington Post; Oct 30 2018
On A Side Note (Opinion)
We’ll continue keeping an eye on this one. According to “administration officials” Zinke may be slated as one of those “multiple Cabinet member” who may be leaving after the midterms. Stay tuned.