Public Citizen seeks probe of Zinke connection to Halliburton chairman

“Secretary Zinke’s undisclosed business interests are troubling and demand immediate clarification…”

A nonprofit watchdog group is asking for a conflict of interest investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s connection to a land deal with the chairman of Halliburton.

Public Citizen is asking the Interior Department’s top ethics officer to determine whether the arrangement violates any federal laws. A foundation Zinke launched to build a park in his hometown is aiding a proposed mixed-use real estate development backed by Halliburton Chairman David Lesar, as POLITICO reported Tuesday.

“The record of the direct involvement of the Zinke family and their Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation in a major real-estate project run by the chairman of Halliburton, and the business deal’s reported financial benefit to the Zinke family as well as to the Foundation, raises serious and numerous concerns of potential violations of the federal conflicts of interest code,” Public Citizen officials wrote in their letter Wednesday to Interior’s Ed McDonnell, who was listed online as the agency’s acting designated ethics official.

Interior in April named Scott de la Vega, a former White House ethics lawyer, as its designed agency ethics official, department spokeswoman Heather Swift said. But he had not been added to the ethics office website as of Wednesday evening. Former ethics official Melinda Loftin retired in September.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are preparing their own investigation, said ranking member Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona.

“Secretary Zinke’s undisclosed business interests are troubling and demand immediate clarification,” Grijalva said in a statement to POLITICO.

Interior is currently without a permanent lead ethics official after Melinda Loftin left the post in September 2017. McDonnell is a career lawyer in Interior’s solicitor’s office and has been temporarily placed in the position.

The foundation, now run by Zinke’s wife, Lola, has signed an initial agreement with a Lesar-backed company to allow some of the foundation’s land to be used for a parking lot for the real estate development in Whitefish, Mont., near other property owned by the Zinkes. Zinke said he resigned his position from the foundation upon becoming secretary, but he was still listed in its annual report filed with the state of Montana until the foundation filed an amended report Tuesday. An Interior spokeswoman provided copies of the amended report as well as a letter dated March 6, 2017, with Zinke resigning from the foundation.

“In April 2018, [the nonprofit’s] annual report was renewed but Mr. Zinke was inadvertently not removed as a Director,” Sean Frampton, a lawyer representing the foundation, wrote in a letter addressed to Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift. “My office has corrected this oversight today and the public record now accurately reflects the board composition.”

The real estate development is likely to increase property values in the area, where the Zinkes own multiple parcels, and could put the secretary’s family in the position of benefiting financially from investments made by Lesar, whose oil-service company Interior oversees. Halliburton stands to benefit from many aspects of the Trump administration’s energy agenda that Zinke oversees, including expanded opportunities for offshore drilling and relaxed regulations on fracking on public lands.

Public Citizen’s letter cites a conflict of interest statute that prohibits federal employees from being involved in any official matter “in which, to his knowledge, he, his spouse, minor child, general partner, organization in which he is serving as officer, director, trustee, general partner or employee, or any person or organization with whom he is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment, has a financial interest.”

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/20/probe-zinke-halliburton-chairman-638327

3 comments

  1. Sometimes you just need some humor

    From THE NEW YORKER

    Memories of the Historic Trump-Pruitt Traffic Jam (excerpts)

    By Calvin Trillin
    May 5, 2018

    Unless I’m imagining this, I was there when Donald Trump’s military parade collided with Scott Pruitt’s security detail and started that historic pileup.

    I’m pretty sure that my friend Duane and I, having just emerged from lunch at a coffee shop two or three blocks from the White House, were chatting on the sidewalk when I saw the collision coming.

    It was right around then, if I remember correctly, that we heard the sound of a marching band. Trump’s military parade–the parade that the President insisted would take the title of the largest military parade in history away from the forty-thousand-troop parade held in Berlin, in 1939, to celebrate Hitler’s fiftieth birthday-was approaching.

    “Sorry to cut you off,” I said. “Do you hear sirens?” There were definitely sirens approaching from the other direction.

    The sirens grew closer. “Sounds like Pruitt,” I said. There was a time, not so long ago, when the sound of a siren brought to mind an ambulance or a police emergency. Now it’s likely to be the sign of a Cabinet secretary barreling through the streets, with flashing lights and a security escort, on his way to dinner with a coal-industry lobbyist.

    Sure enough, in the distance, we could see the flashing lights of an armor-plated S.U.V. It was flanked by a dozen security men on motorcycles. The S.U.V. was followed by three armored personnel carriers. An attack helicopter hovered above, accompanied by two drones that kept maneuvering in a way that suggested Scott Pruitt’s initials.

    The military music, growing louder all the time, made it obvious that the military parade was approaching the same intersection as the S.U.V.

    “I’m afraid Pruitt won’t hear the band soon enough to stop his motorcade,” I said. “I’m told that he has a second soundproof phone booth inside the S.U.V.”

    Then I noticed a line of people approaching the same intersection from the direction of the White House. They were carrying cardboard boxes, and I realized that they were all the people who had cleaned out their desks at the White House that day, after having resigned or been fired.

    “****!” I said. “Is that ZINKE on his horse?”
    Indeed, the Interior Secretary, RYAN ZINKE, was cantering toward the same intersection.

    “Duane!” I shouted. “We have to do something. They’re all going to collide at the intersection.”

    “Duane!” I shouted. “Duane!”

    Too late.

    https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/memories-of-the-historic-trump-pruitt-traffic-jam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now THATS funny! Sad to say – at this point in our latest administration – not as far fetched as one would have thought!! (he does want a military parade)

      Like

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