Over the weekend a CNN story, based in part on Western Values Project analysis of public records, revealed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repeatedly kept meetings off of his official calendar in his first four months off the job, having his staff send him daily schedules with meeting information that was never made public. The story reported that since the beginning of his scandal-plagued tenure, the secretary has met with executives from coal company Peabody Energy, the executive of an Australian mining company trying to develop a copper mine in Montana, and a National Rifle Association lobbyist, among others.
Secretary Zinke’s calendars first came under scrutiny last month when a CNN report found that in recent months the secretary’s publicly released calendars had become increasingly vague, making it impossible to determine who he was meeting with.
“Secretary Zinke is keeping the public in the dark about meetings with the same corrupt special interests that brought this administration to power,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of Western Values Project. “Zinke’s secret meetings — including one held in his Interior office regarding a sweetheart land deal that would potentially benefit Zinke directly — have even prompted an investigation by Interior’s watchdog. Much like the ousted EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Zinke has been keeping a secret calendar that he’d rather keep from the public’s eye, raising questions as to what he’s hiding and how it may be impacting our public lands.”
Before he was Secretary of the Interior, Peabody Energy, a multinational coal corporation, and its affiliated Political Action Committee donated some $3,000 to then-Congressman Zinke. Secretary Zinke’s recent proposal to use West Coast military bases as transportation ports would ostensibly benefit Peabody, who has long sought additional terminals along the coast but has faced financial hurdles and strong opposition from local communities.
Zinke Peabody Energy lobbyist and former Trump campaign official Scott Mason also appear to have a close relationship. Zinke, and his wife Lola, ate dinner together in the Trump Hotel in DC following President Trump’s 2018 State of the Union speech. Additionally, Scott Mason appears to have attended Interior’s 2017 Fourth of July party and the Zinke-organized Christmas party.
Sandfire Resources is an Australian Mining Company that has been trying to develop a controversial copper mine on a tributary of the Smith River in Montana for the last six years. The Smith River, flowing into the Missouri River, is a world-class trout fishery that draws thousands of floating permit applications annually, contributes to Montana’s robust outdoor economy, and provides irrigation water for farmers.
Secretary Zinke isn’t the first Trump appointee to use secret calendars. Former disgraced EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July after CNN broke a story revealing that he had been hiding his meetings with industry representatives on a secret calendar.
The news of Secretary Zinke’s secret calendars comes after he has been dealing with a host of other ethical transgressions. He has been the subject of 14 known investigations with six still pending, making him the most scandal-plagued Interior Secretary in recent history.
In response to the CNN story, the Interior Department declined to comment on specific omissions or redactions from Zinke’s calendar.