Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Interior’s Zinke faces investigation from internal watchdog

Updated

With Scott Pruitt gone from the EPA, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should probably be seen as the most controversial member of Donald Trump’s cabinet. Indeed, Politico  reported yesterday on the Montana Republican facing a new investigation.

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has launched a full investigation into a real estate deal involving a foundation established by Ryan Zinke and developers including Halliburton Chairman David Lesar, which was first reported by POLITICO last month, according to a letter the office sent to House Democrats on Wednesday.

The inspector general’s probe will focus on whether Zinke violated conflict of interest laws, the latest official inquiry of Zinke’s activities in his 16 months helming the department.

Circling back to our previous coverage, the story involves David Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, who’s planning a commercial development in Ryan Zinke’s hometown. A foundation created by the cabinet secretary and his wife – which his wife still oversees – is trying to make the project happen, and the Zinkes stand to benefit if the development comes to fruition.

It creates an awkward dynamic: the cabinet secretary’s wife runs a foundation; the foundation is backing a project launched by the chairman of Halliburton; the cabinet secretary stands to benefit personally from the project; and Halliburton stands to benefit from decisions made by the cabinet secretary.

Politico recently spoke to Marilyn Glynn, who led the Office of Government Ethics in the Bush/Cheney era, who said all of this appears inappropriate and should prompt Zinke to recuse himself from Halliburton-related policy decisions.

Glynn added, “In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you’d never run across something like this…. Nobody would be engaging in business deals” with executives whose companies they regulate.

Making matters slightly worse, Politico also ran a follow-up report last month on Zinke hosting a meeting with Lesar and other developers about the project at Interior Department headquarters last summer, raising further questions about blurred ethical lines.

And now all of this is the subject of an I.G. investigation.

Of course, if Zinke’s record were otherwise spotless, and there were no other concerns about his record on ethics, it might be easier to give him the benefit of the doubt about these revelations.

But then we’re reminded of his actual record, which paints a highly unflattering picture.