Scandal-Plagued: Secretary Zinke’s First Sixteen Months

New Public Records Analysis and Original Research Available at the Department of Influence

With EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt out and with recent breaking news of an investigation into his real estate deal being launched, Secretary Ryan Zinke has arguably become the most scandal-plagued Cabinet-level official of the Trump administration remaining. After more than sixteen months as Interior Secretary, Secretary Zinke has found himself too cozy with industry, in some embarrassing scandals, and with a record of insulting and mistreating his staff. Today, Western Values Project released updates to his Department of Influence profile to keep track of all of his hijinks.

The update, which includes original research and public records analysis, is a comprehensive summary of Secretary Zinke’s actions and missteps to date.

Zinke's Department of Influence

The update shows how at every turn Secretary Zinke and his family have used his post for personal or political gain, whether it’s finagling to get the Interior Department to spend taxpayer dollars to pay for his hotel after a night of politicking with Vice President Pence, bumping Interior staff off an official trip in order to bring his friends and family and then forgetting to pay his family’s bill, or making his employees work a 16 hour day just so he could attend a Beach Boys concert.

Zinke’s favoritism towards special interests is also on display on the updated website, with new research showing industry lobbyists contacting high level Interior officials asking them to reduce monuments that later ended up on Secretary Zinke’s national monuments review list.

The profile also includes a look at Secretary Zinke’s past, including a detailed history of the ill-fated Great Northern Veterans Peace Park, the subject of Secretary Zinke’s latest scandal, and Secretary Zinke’s ties to a business with serious financial problems and links to the offshore leaks database.

New research posted also illuminates Secretary Zinke’s connections to White supremacists, his ties to the birther conspiracy movement, his calling for English as a common language and making offensive comments towards the Native American communities that he is now supposed to be working with as Interior Secretary.

Highlights in the Updates to Ryan Zinke’s Department of Influence Profile Include:

Possible Hatch Act Violations:

Secretary Zinke, in an “unusual” appearance, traveled to Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, on February 23, 2018, purportedly to announce nationwide mine reclamation grants. However, the next day he gave a Fox News interview from the 18th Congressional District just two miles away from where had been on his official trip, saying he was “concerned” about the close special congressional election happening there, as there was “a group of Democrats that want obstruction.” This trip may have violated the Hatch Act.

Secretary Zinke attended a campaign fundraiser for Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, an event for which Interior would have to be reimbursed by the campaign. However, there is still no record of Walden’s campaign paying Secretary Zinke in the latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports.

Taxpayer Resources Used To Facilitate Politicking:

Although Secretary Zinke was originally scheduled to pay for his hotel personally after a day in Billings, Montana in May 2017, after a change in his schedule to include an “official” event, he was able to get Interior to spend taxpayer money on his hotel room. Secretary Zinke attended a campaign rally for Greg Gianforte before going to the hotel, and the next day he went to a Montana Republican rally before spending the rest of his weekend at his home in Whitefish.

VIP Tours:

Secretary Zinke went on an official tour of Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island in April 2017. Three National Park Service staffers were “bumped” from the abovementioned trip because Secretary Ryan Zinke wanted to include additional guests. Two of Secretary Zinke’s guests, Nita Vail and Tony Brown, appear to be friends of the Zinkes– Nita Vail is a former Zinke donor and Tony Brown is Secretary Zinke’s “hunting buddy.” “At taxpayer expense,” the Zinkes also took their yacht broker on this trip.

Secretary Zinke also took his wife and his aunt on the trip, and was late in paying the fee for his wife and aunt to accompany him, so interest accrued.

Fun, Fun, Fun, (Till His Staff Works 16-Hour Days):

Secretary Zinke attended a Beach Boys rehearsal concert, but the U.S. Park Police, who provide his security, were not given enough advance warning by Secretary Zinke’s staff so one park police staffer had to work a 16-hour day to ensure Secretary Zinke had security at the concert.

Big Money Influence:

On an official trip to New York, Secretary Zinke and his wife, Lola, dined with a group of “Wall Street hitters,” including private equity fund directors, CEOs, and bankers, on the evening of September 11, 2017. One of the attendees at the dinner was a “recently retired partner of Goldman Sachs” who “buys large energy companies.”

Monumental Sway:  

When Secretary Zinke was coming up with his hit list of potential national monuments to slash, companies and industry insiders that opposed specific national monuments had connections to Interior and may have influenced Interior in deciding what to cut. In particular, a timber lobbyist contacted Interior officials about reducing the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and a lobbyist at Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s old firm who had worked for a coal company opposed the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. Both Cascade-Siskiyou and Rio Grande Del Norte ended up on Secretary Zinke’s list of monuments to review.

The Big Guns:

Secretary Zinke appointed Susan LaPierre, the wife of the National Rifle Association’s CEO, to the National Park Foundation’s Board of Directors the day before he spoke at the NRA’s annual convention.

The Park That Never Was:

The report includes detailed background on the history behind the ill-fated Great Northern Veterans Peace Park and the Halliburton chairman’s involvement. The research documents Secretary Zinke’s failure to keep his promise to the citizens of Whitefish in failing to launch the park, and includes the park’s recently published 2017 990 form.

Bad Business History:

Before he was in Congress, Ryan Zinke sat on the board of Save The World Air, a company that had serious financial problems, including state and federal tax liens. Moreover, one of the subsidiaries of the company appears in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ [ICIJ] offshore leaks database.

Bigoted Comments:

Ryan Zinke, in 2014, made denigrating comments about Native Americans, saying that “dependence on the government” was too high on some reservations, a comment that tribal leaders rebuked him for.

Zero Tolerance:

Despite the potential negative impacts on Native American communities, Secretary Zinke co-sponsored legislation to require “all official functions of the United States to be conducted in English,” including Interior Department functions. He collaborated with a hate group to promote the bill.

Secretary Zinke supports “requiring” citizens to be fluent in English and said it “infuriates” him when “driver’s license tests are in 15 different languages.”

Ethics? What Ethics?

Secretary Zinke’s wife, Lola, decided to skip an ethics briefing for Cabinet spouses put on by the White House.

View Secretary Zinke’s full profile at the Department of Influence website.

With Secretary Zinke’s record of filling the Interior Department with special interests and lobbyists, it can be hard to keep track. Western Values Project created the Department of Influence to document the revolving door between special interest lobbyists and political appointees at Interior. Learn more at

Also published on Medium.

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