It was just one year ago when then-Congressman Ryan Zinke sat before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources explaining how he would manage the nation’s public lands and resources under his leadership if confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior. He made a lot of promises to be balanced and transparent.
After Zinke’s confirmation, Western Values Project began documenting some of the decisions made at the Department of Interior (DOI) and unraveling the connections to the administration and new political appointees through the Department of Influence website. Under Zinke’s leadership, the tangled web of revolving-door political appointees has led to an extraordinary level of corruption and insider deals. From filing political posts with former lobbyists and swamp creatures to giving industry trade groups preferential access and treatment, it seems no special favor will go unanswered.
A new report released today documents some of the potentially corrupt deals and decisions tied to this administration.
Several articles have already covered Zinke’s ethical lapses and poor judgment as Secretary. He’s billed taxpayers for flying on an oil executive’s private jet, his wife, who has accompanied him on taxpayer-funded travel and meetings, is using Interior staff as her own personal assistants, and Zinke’s former Political Action Committee is under investigation for potential campaign finance violations. The list could go on; indeed it does on his Department of Influence profile page. This new report highlights some less-reported decisions made at Interior that seem to be more than just a coincidence.
One year of scandals at Interior:
Zinke held a meeting with one of the earliest financial supporters of his congressional campaign, Landon Ash, who happens to be the CEO of a company that landed a National Park Service contract just a few weeks after the meeting.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s Washington, D.C., landlord owns a Chilean mining company that received a favorable legal decision by Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani that allowed the company to renew controversial mining leases near the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
In addition to the reversal of a decision that benefited a former client, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt breathed life into a project of a former client that would pipe Missouri River water to supplement supplies in North Dakota’s Red River Valley. Despite concerns by Canada and Minnesota over water quality and invasive species and down river states water quantity concerns, the project revived a previously discarded plan to use a controversial water canal and the district’s general manager said he expected the project to “get to yes,” citing their previous employment of Bernhardt. Interestingly, Bernhardt has not filed a single ethics waiver request since his confirmation through the end of October.
A recent non-decision by Interior happens to benefit the politically connected gambling giant MGM Resorts International that has ties to both Deputy Secretary Bernhardt and Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason. A lobbyist for MGM Resorts International also met with Zinke last August. The non-decision forced Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to file suit.
Associate Deputy Secretary Cason’s former consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, secured a $63,072 contract with the Interior Department.
Todd Willens, as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was supervising the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when they granted a permit to his former employer to re-export endangered big cats despite public opposition.
Acting Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Scott Cameron’s, who was responsible for overseeing the Bureau of Reclamation, former employer R3 Government Solutions was awarded a $111,694 contract by the Bureau.
Doug Domenech, Secretary of Insular Affairs, purchased mining company stock that does business with Interior valued at more than $15,000 one month after his confirmation.
Read the full report for more scandals and additional research on:
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney;
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda;
Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Downey Magallanes;
Senior Advisor for Alaska Affairs Steve Wackowski;
An unnamed Interior Offical giving preferential treatment;