Scott Pruitt Is An Ethics Nightmare, But So Is Ryan Zinke

as posted on Republic Report

“the Zinkes stand to make money off a deal backed by an executive of a major corporation that is seeking, and reaping, benefits from Zinke’s department…”

A Westerner appointed to President Trump’s cabinet, he’s drawn attention for his penchant for expensive travel, vanity perquisites of office, abuse of agency staff time, and cozy personal financial deals with business executives whose industries he oversees. Meanwhile, he has denied the dangers of climate change, met extensively with corporate lobbyists, and gutted the environmental protections implemented by prior administrations.

Yes, that’s entitled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, whose record of seeking personal luxuries and advantages at taxpayer expense, while gearing policy to polluting industries, and punishing subordinates who object, is breathtakingly awful.

But it also pretty well describes Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

The latest Zinke outrage is a stunning investigative report in Politico about a development deal in which Zinke stands to benefit financially by leveraging land that was donated to a charitable foundation he established and is now run by his wife, Lola. The proposed tourist development, in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, is funded by David Lesar, chairman (and, until last year, CEO) of the huge oil services company Halliburton. Lesar is a Zinke friend and contributor to his 2014 House campaign.

Halliburton is in line to gain extensive revenues from Zinke’s actions at Interior to expand drilling on public lands and offshore. The company’s top lobbyist has regularly met with Zinke’s Interior Department to discuss issues like hydraulic fracturing, and last year Zinke blocked Obama administration rules that curbed fracking on federal lands. Zinke, in a speech last September to an oil industry group, praised fracking, which has poisoned the water in communities across the U.S. and poses risks of gas leaks and increased global warming. “Fracking,” he said, “is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us.”

According to the Politico report, Lola Zinke has signed a letter of intent to allow the Whitefish project developer to construct a parking lot on land that was donated to the Zinkes’ foundation for a “Veterans Peace Park.” Meanwhile, Whitefish’s city manager said the project developers “certainly implied that they were working with [Zinke] to find a place” in the development for a microbrewery that the Zinkes would operate. The Zinkes also own land adjacent to the development that could increase in value if the project goes forward.

Marilyn Glynn, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics under George W. Bush, told Politico that the development deal crossed ethical lines and at a minimum required Zinke to recuse from matters involving Halliburton. “In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you’d never run across something like this,” she said. “Nobody would be engaging in business deals” with people whose companies were regulated by their own department. Zinke did respond to Politico’s questions about the relationship with Lesar.

If the apparent corruption in this real estate deal isn’t bad enough — the Zinkes stand to make money off a deal backed by an executive of a major corporation that is seeking, and reaping, benefits from Zinke’s department — it’s echoed in the troubling manner in which their foundation acquired the land in the first place. Freight railroad giant BNSF Railway had donated the land to the Zinke foundation for the veterans park; soon after that, Zinke won his election for state senate and then voted for a bill that would have aided BNSF by directing millions in state funding to railroad construction.

But the whole tawdry episode is merely a small piece of the tapestry of sleazy behavior that has characterized Zinke both before and after he took the oath to be interior secretary.

There has been so much more.

Zinke has been active in funneling money to scam political committees that rip off elderly donors by taking their money and then mostly keeping it for executive and consultant salaries. One of those committees set up by Zinke, Special Operations for America, appealed to donors for funding to attack President Obama in 2012 for taking credit for killing Osama bin Laden. But Federal Election Commission reports revealed that only $7,000 of the $180,000 raised by the PAC that year was spent on influencing the election. Meanwhile, the PAC doled out almost $40,000 for consulting and travel expenses to a corporation set up by Ryan and Lola Zinke.

In March 2017, after joining Trump’s cabinet, Zinke attended a fundraiser on St. Croix for Virgin Islands GOP PAC, a group that has raised $5.7 million since it launched in February 2015 but has spent only $76,000 on congressional candidates, including $3,500 to Zinke’s campaign and Zinke’s own SEAL PAC.

The Federal Election Commission is now probing SEAL PAC for a range of troubling irregularities, including large spending on direct mail and discrepancies in reporting.

Scott Homell and Vincent DeVito, who worked for, respectively, Special Operations for America and SEAL PAC, are now two of Zinke’s top aides at Interior.

As Secretary, Zinke has repeatedly used private charter planes, including a $12,375 charter flight from Las Vegas to Whitefish on a plane owned by fossil fuel company executives, and charters between Caribbean islands ― all on routes where commercial flights were available. The Department’s inspector general probed Zinke’s June 2017 Las Vegas trip, during which he delivered a pep talk to the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, owned by Whitefish resident and major Zinke donor Bill Foley, and then charged taxpayers for the charter to Montana; they found that the Knights had offered to reschedule the talk so he could book a commercial flight, but Zinke said, it’s cool, I’ll take the charter. Zinke didn’t disclose his relationship with Foley to ethics officials reviewing the trip; he also claimed that the speech to the Knights, which never mentioned Interior issues, made sense because he was doing a nearby meeting with county commissioners, but it turned out Zinke’s team booked that event only after the session with the Knights was set up.

Zinke also spent $14,000 in taxpayer money on helicopter rides in the DC area last summer so he could attend (1) the swearing-in of his head-butting congressional successor Greg Gianforte and (2) a horseback riding date with Vice President Pence.

And Zinke and Lola brought an Interior security detail along on their vacation last summer to Greece and Turkey.

Lola Zinke has reportedly been driving Interior staff nuts with her own extensive travel demands, such as last-minute requests to attend and add guests to conservative events.

Zinke and Lola also are using a lot of Interior staff time and money to book, for friends and supporters, VIP tours of those American monuments that they haven’t yet, at the behest of corporations, turned into uranium mines and oil drilling sites.

His staff said Zinke knew nothing about paying $139,000 for a door for his office (just as Pruitt says he didn’t know about the $43,000 cost of his soundproof booth).

Zinke has required his security staff to hoist a special secretarial flag on the Interior Department’s roof whenever he’s in the building, and to remove it when Zinke departs. In addition, as the Washington Post reported, “He has commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors, but the cost to taxpayers is unclear.”

Zinke also has regularly used a personal email address to conduct Interior business, even though … you know: Obviously as a House member he attacked Hillary Clinton for doing just that.

Zinke reassigned many of Interior’s senior employees ― for example moving Interior’s chief climate policy expert to the royalty collection division — in moves that appeared punitive. (A Department inspector general investigation somehow concluded that because Department officials did not document their reasons for reassigning the employees or “gather the information needed to make informed decisions about the reassignments,” the IG could not determine whether or not officials complied with the law.) Zinke also named only political appointees, including several ex-industry lobbyists, to a Department committee on personnel issues, ignoring that career staff are supposed to be part of the process.

Zinke’s Whitefish friend/neighbor’s two-person company famously obtained a $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure after Hurricane Maria.

On key policy issues, Zinke, who justifies his decisions to exploit public lands by speciously claiming to be a geologist, is doing the bidding of energy industry lobbyists — except in Montana, where he is protecting lands, perhaps with an eye to seeking higher office there. A conservative political group tied to Pence has this year been running corny, misleading campaign-style ads praising Zinke. (Zinke concealed as a congressman that he’d been living in California, not Montana.)

In addition to all the corrupt and self-aggrandizing behavior, there are other ways that Zinke is simply awful.

Prior to serving in Congress, Zinke, on a 2013 episode of his radio show, hosted a birther and raised questions about President Obama’s college records.

According to high-ranking Interior staff who spoke with CNN, Zinke has repeatedly stated that he won’t focus on staff diversity, saying things like “diversity isn’t important,” or “I don’t care about diversity,” or “I don’t really think that’s important anymore.” Of the 33 senior career staff Zinke reassigned, 15 were people of color.

After Callista Gingrich, Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican and wife of Trump crony Newt Gingrich, expressed her deep offense when she read that a statue of a nude person might be placed on the National Mall temporarily, Newt brought Callista’s concerns to Zinke. Days later, the National Park Service, which Zinke oversees, blocked the installation of the statue.

And Zinke, like Trump and Pruitt, has only hired the best people.

  • Zinke staffer Christine Bauserman resigned after CNN documented inflammatory social media remarks she made about Muslims, African-Americans, LGBT people, and President Obama.
  • A top Zinke aide, Douglas Domenech, took meetings with his previous employer, the Koch-connected Texas Public Policy Foundation, while it was engaged in a legal dispute with the department. Doing so possibly violated ethics rules. Adding to the sense that sense that something’s wrong here, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift, told The Guardian the meetings were “primarily social in nature,” even though Domenech’s calendar shows that the meetings concerned specific policy issues.
  • Todd Wynn, another top Zinke lieutenant, also scheduled a number of meetings with representatives of his former industry group employers, again in possible violation of federal ethics rules.
  • Zinke’s senior adviser Kathleen Benedetto, according to documents, held about twice as many meetings with mining and fossil-fuel companies as with environmental groups, and afterwards some of those companies benefited directly from Trump administration actions weakening public lands and wilderness protections.
  • Indur Goklany, a career Interior employee who is connected to the climate-denying Heartland Institute and has said greenhouse gases are “good news,” was tasked by senior Interior officials early in the administration with rewriting the Department’s public positions on climate change.
  • Scott Angelle, appointed under Trump to be Interior’s director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, has worked, at the urging of energy companies, to repeal Obama-era safety rules, including regulations issued after the deadly and costly Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The parallels between the corrupt and ugly behavior of Zinke and of Pruitt are so plain, and the Trump administration is such a backstabbing disaster, that last month a Pruitt aide was caught trying to divert attention from Pruitt’s ethics debacle by dishing dirt on Zinke.

Like Pruitt, Zinke still has his job probably because he has slavishly worshipped two important masters, even above worshipping himself: the fossil fuel and mining executives who are big donors to the Republican Party, and, of course, the self-focused President Trump. Last September Zinke told an oil industry group that nearly one-third of Interior Department employees are not loyal to him and Trump. Maybe the secretary was on to something there: With the disgraceful record Zinke has compiled, who could blame them?

https://www.republicreport.org/2018/scott-pruitt-is-an-ethics-nightmare-but-so-is-ryan-zinke/

11 comments

  1. Unbelievable stories about this terrible example of a government official. He needs to be removed from office. President Trump needs to pay more attention to this Secretary of the Interior and how corrupt his actions are as the head of this agency. Between Secretary Zinke and Secretary Priitt, I don’t know which one is worse but they are bad for our country and our wildlife. Get rid of both of them asap🕐🕐🕐🕐…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently destroying wildlife on one continent is not enough

    The Nefarious Safari Club…

    Call to Arms! Support Secretary Zinke & the FWS Decision to Import Elephant Trophies from Zambia & Zimbabwe
    by Randy Gibbs
    Nov 18, 2017

    Use SCI’s Action Center to contact President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Zinke now and tell them how much you appreciate the efforts of the Fish & Wildlife Service to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife.

    This week the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016 and 2018 now can be imported into the United States. The Service made the announcement at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, an event co-hosted by the Safari Club International Foundation and the host nation of Tanzania.

    https://www.safariclub.org/detail/news/2017/11/18/call-to-arms!-support-secretary-zinke-the-fws-decision-to-import-elephant-trophies-from-zambia-zimbabwe

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For the Legal Eagles….this is just a small part of the entire document

    SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL v. ZINKE

    United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
    SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL and National Rifle Association of America, Appellants v. Ryan ZINKE, in His Official Capacity as Secretary of The U.S. Department of the Interior, et al., Appellees
    No. 16-5358
    Decided: December 22, 2017

    On April 21, 2014, Safari Club, later joined by the NRA, filed a complaint in the District Court, challenging the Service’s April 4, 2014 enhancement finding pertaining to importation of African elephant trophies from both Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Safari Club Int’l v. Jewell, 47 F. Supp. 3d 29, 31 (D.D.C. 2014). The District Court granted the federal defendants’ motion to dismiss the Tanzanian claims on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies, since no member of the Safari Club or NRA had applied for an import permit for any Tanzanian elephant. Safari Club Int’l v. Jewell, 76 F. Supp. 3d 198, 206–09 (D.D.C. 2014). The court also allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to add claims challenging the July 2014 enhancement finding. Id. at 205–06. The Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the Tanzanian claims, holding that Safari Club and the NRA had standing, the April and July findings were final agency actions, and Safari Club did not need to seek a permit in order to exhaust its administrative remedies. Safari Club Int’l v. Jewell, 842 F.3d 1280, 1285–90 (D.C. Cir. 2016).

    In June 2015, Safari Club and the NRA (“Appellants”) filed a separate action alleging that the Service’s March 26, 2015 enhancement finding violated the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq., and the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 706. Complaint for Declarative and Injunctive Relief, ¶¶ 88–125 (June 30, 2015); see also Safari Club Int’l v. Jewell, 213 F. Supp. 3d 48, 51 (D.D.C. 2016). Members of both organizations had harvested elephants in Zimbabwe in 2014 and 2015. However, as a result of the challenged enhancement findings, the members were barred from importing the trophies into the United States. Complaint, ¶¶ 18, 24; Appellants’ Br. 57–58. The District Court consolidated the two Zimbabwe-related cases and granted leave to Friends of Animals and the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force to intervene as defendants. That consolidated case is the subject of this appeal.

    https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-dc-circuit/1884193.html

    Like

  4. Unholy Alliance

    SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS TO OIL & GAS COMPANIES
    SCI is partially financed by the oil & gas industry (link is external), and takes positions that align with the oil lobby. Some of SCI’s board members are executives at fossil fuel companies who have vested interests in the conservation fights that SCI has involved itself in. This includes Ralph Cunningham (link is external), a known oil and gas veteran.

    Through its Political Action Committees, SCI accepts direct contributions (link is external) from people and firms in the oil & gas industry including Tim Wigley (link is external) and representatives from Conoco Phillips, Chesapeake Energy, and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. Wigley, who has been called an “astroturf mastermind,” (link is external) was the executive vice president of Pac/West Communications (link is external) from 2002 to 2011, and president of the Western Energy Alliance (link is external) from 2012 to 2016.
    According to financial disclosure documents, SCI has contracted with Ogilvy Government Relations (link is external) and Crossroads Strategies (link is external), two lobbying firms with deep connections to the fossil fuel industry.
    http://polluterwatch.org/safari-club-international

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  5. BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE…

    THE REVOLVING DOOR

    Revolving-door lobbyist Melissa Simpson is a key link between SCI and the fossil fuel industry. Simpson is an avid hunter and former SCI Director of Government Affairs & Science-Based Conservation (link is external). In 2017, Simpson was appointed Special Assistant to Ryan Zinke (link is external), the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which is her second appointment at the DOI (link is external). She has also worked at the Department of Agriculture.

    Before her stint at SCI, Simpson worked at Pac/West Communications (link is external), where she was Vice President of Policy and Regulatory Affairs (link is external). Pac/West Communications is a PR firm notorious (link is external) for its ties to the oil and gas industry and for funding astroturf front groups. According to leaked documents (link is external), Simpson was hired in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (now known as the Western Energy Alliance) to “advocate on behalf of industry” to a number of regulatory agencies.

    http://polluterwatch.org/safari-club-international

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  6. ! IMPORTANT ALERT!

    The BLM is seeking comments from YOU about their plan to remove 500+ Sand Wash Horses. We first shared this information a week or so ago, we hope you have taken the time to read through this post, the BLM proposal, and submitted a comment. If not, please do so!

    The following is a news release from the Colorado BLM about a proposed removal of horses from the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area. The removal is not yet approved or funded, however the BLM is being proactive and will move ahead this year if budget becomes available. If the budget is not available this year, this proposal will likely be approved and will be in effect for 10 years. The number of horses within the HMA is approximately 675. The AML (appropriate management level) as set by the BLM is low end 163 horses and high end 362 horses. The proposal calls for the removal of 514 horses, plus associated foals, taking the herd down to an incredibly low number of horses – 163 (on 159,000 publicly owned acres).

    The removal method would be bait and trap, using water and feed to lure horses into a fenced area. The horses would then be separated from their family bands into groups of stallions, mares and foals, and shipped to the holding facility in Canon City, Colorado. At the holding facility, they will be freeze branded, vaccinated, and the stallions gelded. The proposed removal does not include an option for helicopter gather, which is of some comfort and we are grateful helicopters will not be chasing our horses.

    These are very difficult times for wild horses everywhere, and the day we have worked so hard to prevent may soon be upon us – our beloved Sand Wash horses are under threat. NOW IS YOUR CHANCE TO SEND COMMENTS TO THE BLM ABOUT THIS PROPOSED REMOVAL, comments are due by July 5th. This is the ONLY opportunity you will have to comment for the length of this DNA, which is 10 years! This DNA document will allow for future removals with no public comment required! It is important the BLM hear from you! Speak up for the wild horses, YOU are their voice!

    HERE IS THE LINK TO SUBMIT YOUR COMMENT: https://go.usa.gov/xQGdT

    When commenting, please keep in mind:
    • The SWB horses are healthy and thriving on the range.
    • The AML was established decades ago and is set artificially low.
    • Removing 514 horses plus additional foals is extreme and unnecessary.
    • Removing 514 horses and foals will cost the tax payers millions of dollars in removal costs and the cost to warehouse horses in holding pens.
    • The local economy has been revitalized by the many visitors to SWB. If the horses are removed in large numbers, visitors will stop coming and the economy will suffer.
    • The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary (GEMS) has a proven record for intaking, training and adopting horses in smaller, manageable numbers. The BLM/GEMS/SWAT partnership has been highly successful and has resulted in hundreds of horses being taken out of holding pens and adopted out. As
    successful as GEMS has been, they cannot intake 500+ horses at one time. We strongly suggest the BLM reconsider their decision to remove to low AML, and instead remove a smaller number over a period of several years which can be managed by the sanctuary.

    Thank you

    Sand Wash Advocate Team

    Like

  7. News Release
    Northwest District Office, Colorado

    June 4, 2018

    Contact: David Boyd, Public Affairs Specialist, (970) 876-9008

    BLM seeks public comment on two potential wild horse gathers in northwestern Colorado

    SILT, Colo. –The Bureau of Land Management seeks public comment on two potential wild horse gathers planned this summer or fall to help maintain healthy populations of wild horses on healthy lands in northwestern Colorado.

    “We are committed to maintaining healthy populations of wild horses in northwestern Colorado for the long-term,” said BLM Northwest Colorado District Manager Andrew Archuleta. “Current wild horse populations in Colorado are as high as they have been since before the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act was passed. To keep these wild horse populations healthy, we need to reduce the populations through gathers as well as maintain an active fertility control program to slow herd growth.”

    Wild horse gathers are approved at the national level based on funding and priority. While these two proposed gathers are not currently approved for this year, the BLM Northwest District is developing gather plans in case funding becomes available.

    In the Little Snake Field Office outside Maybell, Colo., the BLM is proposing to gather and remove approximately 514 excess wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) and adjacent areas using bait and water trapping. The BLM estimates the 2018 wild horse population in the HMA and surrounding area is approximately 747 wild horses (677 within the HMA and another 70 outside the HMA boundaries). The established appropriate management level for this HMA is between 163 and 362 wild horses. For more information and to comment on this proposal, go to https://go.usa.gov/xQGdT.

    Wild horses removed through this gather will be taken to the Canon City holding facility and be made available for adoption or sale.

    Comments need to be received by July 5, 2018.

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

    -BLM-

    The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Diverse activities authorized on these lands generated $75 billion in sales of goods and services throughout the American economy in fiscal year 2016 – more than any other agency in the Department of the Interior. These activities supported more than 372,000 jobs.


    David Boyd

    Bureau of Land Management
    Public Affairs Specialist
    NW Colorado District
    2300 River Frontage Road
    Silt, CO 81652
    (970) 876-9008
    (970) 319-4130 (cell)

    Like

  8. It is always such a comforting feeling to hear the BLM inform us that OUR information may be made public! I do wonder how many people hesitate to comment after reading that. Think thats the point? Strange how they have no hesitation in releasing OUR information, but theirs, far too many times, can only be obtained by FOIAs!!

    Like

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