Report: Trump Interior Secretary Violated Federal Ethics Rules

Ryan Zinke allegedly participated in commercial negotiations with real estate developers and lied about it to an ethics official.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah.Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General released a damning report Wednesday on former Trump Interior secretary and current congressional candidate Ryan Zinke, finding that he had repeatedly violated federal ethics rules by participating in commercial negotiations with real estate developers who stood to benefit from policies he helped implement. 

As Interior Secretary, Zinke was a major supporter of coal and gas drilling on public lands. His brief, 21-month tenure was plagued by scandals, with officials opening no-less than 15 investigations into his extravagant managing style. He also became known for idiosyncratic behavior, commissioning personal commemorative coins to give to visitors, ordering his staff to hoist and lower the department’s flag when he entered and exited the building, riding a horse named Tonto across the National Mall, and installing an arcade game that featured hunting in a common area. 

But the Interior Department’s investigation centered on a more run-of-the-mill issue. While Zinke was in office, he reportedly attended meetings with developers, including a Halliburton executive, concerning a planned commercial development called 95 Karrow on land owned by Zinke’s family’s nonprofit foundation. According to Politico—the first outlet to break the news that Zinke had participated in the negotiations—the deal could also have allowed Zinke and his wife to own and operate a microbrewery on the site. 

Zinke reportedly represented his foundation for over a year in over 64 text messages and emails, even though he had told federal officials that he would resign as president of the foundation and refrain from doing any work on its behalf. 

“In light of these communications, we found that Secretary Zinke failed to abide by his ethics obligations in which he committed not to manage or provide any other services to the Foundation after his appointment as Secretary of the Interior,” the report states. 

On top of all that, the report alleges that Zinke had ordered his staff to arrange an in-person meeting with the developers in his office on August 3, 2017, and that he later gave them a personal tour of the Lincoln Memorial. Zinke also allegedly lied to an agency ethics official, saying that the meeting with the developers was “purely social” and that his involvement in the negotiations was minimal. 

However, the report didn’t find any evidence that Zinke, a leading Republican candidate in a Montana congressional race, had used his position in service of his or Halliburton’s financial gain. The department wrote that it had referred the case to the Biden Department of Justice, which declined to prosecute. 

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate