Sources: Justice Department investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

The Justice Department is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for possibly using his office for pers...

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 10:22 AM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 10:22 AM

The Justice Department is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for possibly using his office for personal gain, following a referral from Interior's inspector general, two sources familiar with the investigation say.

The full extent of the inquiry is unclear.

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Zinke has faced multiple ethics questions during his time at Interior, and the inspector general's office has multiple public inquiries into the secretary including the department's handling of a Connecticut casino project, whether the boundaries for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument were redrawn to benefit a state lawmaker and conversations between Zinke and Halliburton Chairman David Lesar about a Montana land development project.

Zinke said he has not been contacted by the Justice Department.

"They haven't talked to me. It will be the same thing as all the other investigations. I follow all rules, procedures, regulations and most importantly the law. This is another politically driven investigation that has no merit," Zinke told CNN.

The Justice Department declined to comment. Interior's inspector general's office said it would not comment on Justice-related issues.

President Donald Trump's Cabinet secretaries have faced scrutiny over their use of government resources, including former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

CNN has also learned Justice Department investigators began probing Scott Pruitt's questionable ethical conduct before he left as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. The inquiry was opened up after a referral from the EPA IG regarding whether Pruitt took any action to benefit an energy lobbyist he rented a condo from for below market rate.

The probe appears to have stalled since Pruitt left office over the summer, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

IG investigations into Zinke

This summer, Interior's inspector general began investigating Zinke's relationship with Halliburton's chairman, including an August 2017 meeting Zinke held at Interior. The two discussed the land development project run by Lesar's son and located near land owned by Zinke's family's foundation. Politico, which uncovered the meeting, reported the development could include a brewery that the Zinkes could run, a potential financial benefit for the Zinkes. One source told CNN that the project has the potential to increase the value of Zinke's land holdings in the area, creating a personal gain for Zinke rather than a benefit for the community as a whole.

As a major energy producer, some of Halliburton's business is regulated by the Interior Department.

Zinke said in a Montana radio show appearance on June 27 that the meeting with Lesar was innocuous.

"We meet in the office," Zinke said on the program. "We go out to dinner, we talk about the background of the park. What are the neighbors like, what was the vision of the park, where the boundaries are, where the water table is because the water table has changed over time. What the railroad is. So they have the background."

The concept for Lesar's project was approved in December 2017 according to the city council's meeting records.

The inspector general is also looking into whether the borders of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument were re-drawn to benefit a local politician, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

The Western Values Project, a group that has opposed several of Zinke's decisions, pointed out that the re-drawn boundaries wrap around a parcel of land owned by the local lawmaker, and questioned whether he is "using his positions of power to benefit himself" and the local water authority "at the expense of public lands."

Also ongoing is a probe of whether Zinke improperly weighed in on a potential tribal casino project, the source said. News reports raised questions about Zinke's meeting with lobbyists opposed to the project, and Connecticut lawmakers who requested the probe noted proponents for the project were not granted meetings, and that the department may have misled the tribes behind the project.

The inspector general concluded earlier this month that Zinke violated the department's travel policies by allowing his wife to ride in government vehicles, and ultimately brought the Zinkes into compliance with the policy by re-writing the policy. The report also says his aides looked into classifying her as a department volunteer, which also would have made her travel permissible.

Earlier this month, Interior attracted more headlines after questions emerged about who would lead the IG's office at Interior. In an email Housing Secretary Ben Carson sent to staff at "a fond farewell" to HUD Assistant Secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts, announcing she had "decided to leave HUD to become the Acting Inspector General at the Department of Interior."

While the inspector general post has been vacant since 2011, Mary Kendall has led the office since 2009 as the deputy inspector general. The appointment of a political official as the acting inspector general was seen within the government watchdog community as highly unusual. Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift later said that Kendall remains in her post in the IG's office.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497379

Reported Deaths: 9907
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34085530
DeSoto31806398
Hinds31796621
Jackson24303377
Rankin21852387
Lee15413233
Madison14513278
Jones13770241
Forrest13401250
Lauderdale11936314
Lowndes10908184
Lamar10461135
Pearl River9428237
Lafayette8450137
Hancock7690126
Washington7361156
Oktibbeha7110129
Monroe6713173
Warren6635175
Neshoba6606204
Pontotoc6603101
Panola6458131
Marshall6378132
Bolivar6264145
Union595194
Pike5780152
Alcorn5630100
Lincoln5416134
George490479
Scott470698
Tippah464981
Prentiss464181
Leflore4626143
Itawamba4590104
Adams4570119
Tate4539109
Copiah444691
Simpson4419116
Wayne438572
Yazoo437586
Covington427194
Sunflower4215104
Marion4206107
Coahoma4114104
Leake407287
Newton380879
Grenada3691108
Stone358264
Tishomingo355991
Attala330189
Jasper328065
Winston312891
Clay305875
Chickasaw296567
Clarke290294
Calhoun277645
Holmes266587
Smith262550
Yalobusha232347
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217663
Greene215448
Lawrence211140
Perry204555
Amite203454
Webster201645
Noxubee184940
Montgomery178956
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167338
Tunica158539
Benton147038
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131037
Humphreys128838
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104339
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 811551

Reported Deaths: 15101
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1138721885
Mobile720161315
Madison51829685
Shelby37203339
Baldwin37018538
Tuscaloosa34853599
Montgomery33879718
Lee23097239
Calhoun22095468
Morgan20584368
Etowah19727496
Marshall18224298
Houston17270405
St. Clair15884337
Cullman15257289
Limestone15177197
Elmore14944283
Lauderdale14060294
Talladega13653270
DeKalb12530258
Walker11055363
Blount10071174
Autauga9874146
Jackson9760177
Coffee9171188
Dale8850180
Colbert8768200
Tallapoosa7028194
Escambia6714127
Covington6661179
Chilton6571160
Russell623458
Franklin5926105
Chambers5553142
Marion4942126
Dallas4848199
Clarke472681
Pike4713105
Geneva4557126
Winston4456101
Lawrence4247116
Bibb421186
Barbour355274
Marengo333889
Monroe329062
Randolph324663
Butler323694
Pickens313479
Henry310365
Hale308586
Cherokee299257
Fayette289779
Washington250850
Cleburne245758
Crenshaw243075
Clay238867
Macon229862
Lamar214846
Conecuh185051
Coosa177338
Lowndes173061
Wilcox166738
Bullock151744
Perry137940
Sumter130738
Greene125344
Choctaw86527
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