Wild Horse & Burro Slaughter Endorser, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Is Embroiled In More Than One Scandal

by as published on ThinkProgress.org

“It started with trying to legalize horse slaughter plants in his home state and has only gone down hill from there…”

Dinky Zinke asks; “Filly Fillet in this hand and Bucking Bronc Burger in this hand, which would you pick?”

A controversial contract benefiting a small company based in his hometown is only the latest possible corruption scandal linked to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has come under fire for his spending habits as well as his connections to special interests and potential misuse of campaign funds.

On Monday, nonprofit watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) accused Zinke’s dormant congressional campaign of dodging rules prohibiting individuals from converting political donations into individual revenue. According to an official Federal Election Commission complaint, the campaign allegedly purchased an RV from Zinke’s wife, then sold it to a friend at a steeply discounted price a year later, lowering the car’s price from $59,100 to $25,000. The recipient, Ed Buttrey, is a Montana state senator rumored to be in the running to be nominated Interior assistant secretary.

The CLC cited the RV sale along with Zinke’s earlier hotel stays in the Virgin Islands and New York — trips he took on the Interior Department’s dime — as possible efforts to skirt federal contribution campaign rules.

“When you combine the disregard for campaign finance laws when Zinke was a candidate with the disregard that Zinke as Interior secretary has shown for the ethics laws, you certainly get a picture of an individual who may not be taking his responsibilities as an officeholder seriously,” said Brendan Fischer, who submitted the complaint on behalf of the CLC.

Zinke’s other ethical close-calls, as the CLC noted, are plentiful.

Last week, a two-person for-profit private company from Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana secured a $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory has struggled for over a month following a devastating hurricane and much of the island stills lacks access to power and water. But many officials questioned the decision to award Whitefish Energy Holdings the contract and even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criticized the deal. The company eventually lost the contract amid “significant concerns” about its ability to adequately perform necessary relief work, as well as increasing scrutiny and calls from Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to cancel the deal. An audit of the deal is underway on both a federal and local level.

Zinke has denied any connection to the contract, blaming the growing scandal on coastal elitism and a bias against small towns.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” the interior secretary wrote in a statement on Friday.

“Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding of influencing any contract involving Whitefish [Energy Holdings] are completely baseless,” Zinke continued. “Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime.”

But the Whitefish controversy has very little to do with the small town roots of Whitefish Energy Holdings and far more to do with alarm over possible corruption. Zinke has been connected to a number of other scandals — many of them ongoing and drawing increasing scrutiny.

As the overseer of approximately 500 million acres across the United States, Zinke plays a crucial role in crafting President Trump’s domestic climate policy. Under Trump’s budget, the Department of the Interior faces steep cuts, including an 80 percent reduction in funding for climate efforts.

Zinke himself has taken an apathetic approach to climate change and environmental protection on a broader level. He has called the Paris climate agreement — signed by virtually every country in the world apart from embattled Syria — a “badly negotiated deal” and has supported Trump’s decision to leave the landmark decision. He has also questioned the impact of climate change — claiming that “no models” exist proving the phenomenon’s impact on the planet — and sought to heavily downsize national monuments, despite outcry from activists and indigenous tribes.

As a Montana congressman, Zinke took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, many of whom drill on the same public lands he now oversees. Zinke received a total of $345,000 between 2013 and 2017 from donors like these, with one oil-and-gas executive giving the now-secretary as much as $11,600, according to Federal Election Commission data. These numbers have caused many to worry Zinke’s stances are being shaped by oil, gas, and coal lobbyists, as well as by climate skeptics more generally.

The secretary’s lavish trips are also alarming watchdog groups. This summer, Zinke took a $12,375 chartered flight from Las Vegas to an area near his Montana home, when a commercial equivalent would have cost around $300. That trip was aboard a private plane owned by a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration firm, once again concerning climate activists.

In March, Zinke also took a taxpayer-funded trip to the aforementioned U.S. Virgin Islands, where he attended a Republican Party fundraiser and donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photo with the secretary. That event was one of many Zinke attended with major donors and other political figures on Interior Department-funded trips, according to documents reviewed by Politico.

Earlier this month, 26 House Democrats wrote in a letter that Zinke’s trips “give the appearance that you are mixing political gatherings and personal destinations with official business.” Other figures have also expressed concern — Zinke’s Virgin Islands trip, which are mentioned in its complaint, attracted CLC’s attention three weeks ago.

“This activity constitutes impermissible solicitation of political contributions if event organizers conditioned the opportunity to take a photograph with Secretary Zinke on paying a higher fee,” CLC’s senior director for ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote to the Justice Department’s Office of Special Council. Shaub requested a Hatch Act investigation in order to determine whether Zinke violated rules restricting federal employees from partisan political events and dealings.

Monday’s complaint comes amid a Special Counsel investigation into Zinke’s spending habits, as well as a separate investigation opened by Interior Department’s inspector general.

Audits into Puerto Rico’s canceled contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings are also ongoing.

https://thinkprogress.org/zinke-scandals-papertrail-26c2e725f345/

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11 comments on “Wild Horse & Burro Slaughter Endorser, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Is Embroiled In More Than One Scandal

  1. I applaud the research done on this article and wish that the journalist would PLEASE read the recent White Paper and all the supporting documents that prove the corruption of the BLM.

    As a state lawmaker in 2009, Zinke PROMOTED a bill to kill horses for food and now he is in charge of our wild ones and our public lands. Frightening!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Being (past) from Montana it is amazing how ignorant they in general are about wild horses. The BLM has not had an adoption event there except out of Billings for the Pryor horses. Never any other. Zinke could of taken Allegiant Air, it flies direct to an airport just outside of Whitefish. This man does not seem to have very many connecting neurons, which matches to all Trumps other candidates. — What worries me is High Country News has also written about Zinkes Scandals piling up. They are no friends of Wild Horses, they have so many times in the past written (transcribed) the Excess Song. So, maybe Zinke is going against the livestock industry in favor of oil and gas in some way???

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This man is obviously not serving the public’s best interest. Quid pro quo is his mode of operation – mostly to line his pockets and others who will benefit from “knowing “him. Corrupted and evil to boot. Wanting to murder 50,000 innocent wild horses and burros tell me exactly what kind of person he is. He need to be removed from his position and sent packing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This headline: Need I say MORE? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/11/02/farmers-urged-bury-underpants-improve-quality-beef/amp/ PLEASE PLEASE POST THIS ON THE BLOG. WE SERIOUSLY NEED A LAUGH. MEANWHILE…..BACK AT THE RUSSIA SCANDAL….I am thinking the Russia connection the BLM is more than it appears to be. THE Administrations being asked lots of Russia questions as they investigate serious connections as well shouldn’t someone point to Mueller how strange it is this past few months Russia is now involved in wanting to buy America’s Wild Horses that are currently protected and How eagerly some including Stewart and Zinke are to sell them to the Russians with All this question of collusion. Doesn’t anyone else smell a Dying Rat here?

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  4. From WILD BURRO PROTECTION LEAGUE

    Dear Friends of the Wild Equids,
    1. This afternoon, in a conference call with the CANA Foundation and partners, we learned that the vote on the Interior/BLM budget in Senate committee COULD take place next week, but may actually be further delayed. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, advocates have more time to call and send messages to key Senators.
    Here’s an easy, direct way. The alert (“Act Now to Stop the Execution Order for Wild Horses & Burros”) just published through In Defense of Animals allows you, with one click, to fax immediately, and for free, all members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. You can, as you wish, add your own words and/or organization to the letter. (Identifying with an organization, particularly one of national scope, gives gravitas to messages coming from outside the Senator’s district.) Please share this widely with friends and allied groups:

    2. The NY Daily News just published Susan Wagner’s (President of Equine Advocates) appeal to Congressional representatives and all concerned citizens to stop the scapegoating and lethal targeting of wild horses and burros — and defeat the House budget language that would authorize their mass murder. Hers is an especially eloquent plea:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/…/congress-targets-wild-horses-a…
    3. No doubt you’ve heard that Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of the President, raised the need to protect wild horses and burros with Interior Secretary Zinke. She reportedly considers herself an animal advocate. But Zinke turned her gesture into an agitprop maneuver straight out of Orwell’s 1984. We should get this news out on social media. Zinke, a long-time advocate of equine slaughter and a devious actor, is becoming increasingly mired in corruption. Our friends in the Equine Welfare Alliance documented the play surrounding Lara and the wild equines:
    While this is wonderful news there is a major misleading paragraph in the Washington Examiner story about Lara’s concern. Oh yes, Zinke is at the root of it. Here’s the paragraph:
    “She has also met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on saving some 70,000 horses and burros on Bureau of Land Management lands in the West. He told the Secrets, “The humane and ethical treatment of our iconic wild horses is a big concern, and last month Interior hosted the first of its kind meeting with animal rights advocates. This forum allowed all parties to come to the table to start a dialogue so we can all work together to address the challenges faced by both wild horses and our public lands.”
    Zinke will sink to any depth (or is that “zink to any depth”) to ensure he kills America’s mustangs and burros. The forum he talked about was the Salt Lake City meeting in which horse advocates, groups or individuals, were kept out. There is no public record of any other meeting involving government officials and the public (horse advocacy groups/individuals) concerning the mustangs and burros. This man is a liar and not very good at deception. Bottom line, he lied to the President of the United States daughter-in-law. He lied to his his boss’ daughter-in-law.
    He is, however, great at being transparent in how utterly stupid he is.
    Example:
    When asked why he wanted to open some federal lands that are currently closed to the public he said: “I have had hunters come to me and say they don’t hunt anymore because there is no place to go to hunt.”
    Oh please! With statements like that he makes Sally Jewell look like a Rhodes Scholar. But the man is clean…….huh?
    Vanity Fair
    https://www.vanityfair.com/…/ryan-zinke-neighbor-puerto-ric…
    Ryan Zinke’s Neighbor Lands $300 Million Contract to ….
    http://www.vanityfair.com
    Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees when the hurricane hit. But what it lacks in experience it makes up for in ties to the Trump administration.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s said that Eric Trump’s wife Lara is working on saving the wild horses and burros. Uuuummmm right. Eric is a trophy hunter as is his older brother.

    As for Stinky….years ago he tried to pass on a bill for 200+ dollars to the Department of Navy. It cost him any future promotions. He says it didn’t affect his career but we see he’s still trying to stick it to the taxpayer.

    Personally, I’d trust a rattlesnake way before I’d trust anyone in this administration.

    Liked by 1 person

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