Ryan Zinke Under Investigation For Montana Land Deal

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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The Interior Department’s inspector general will investigate Secretary Ryan Zinke’s involvement in a land deal in Montana, according to a letter sent to House Democrats.

Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has confirmed that her office will examine the Interior Secretary’s “reported ongoing involvement in and use of taxpayer resources to advance land developments in Whitefish, Montana.” The letter, sent Wednesday, was in response to three Democratic members of the House Resources Committee who requested Kendall’s office investigate the matter.

The announcement comes after a Politico report on June 19 revealed the details of an ongoing development project that is taking place in Whitefish — Zinke’s hometown — and supported by David Lesar, the chairman of Halliburton. Lesar has backed the development group behind the project, and emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal he has been in communication with Zinke about the project. Lesar, Lesar’s son John, and developer Casey Malmquist met with Zinke in August in his office.

Malmquist claims talk of the Montana project, known as 95 Karrow, was discussed at dinner, but not during the office meeting.

“Ryan — our development plan and your park project are an absolute grand slam,” Malmquist emailed to Zinke weeks after the meeting. “I have never been more excited about a development as I am about this one.”

An investigation will determine if Zinke used his government position to personally gain from 95 Karrow. The project involves the development of shops and a microbrewery, which would ultimately increase the value of land he owns that sits in close proximity. As head of the Interior Department, Zinke’s work has major impacts on Halliburton, a U.S. oil series company. (RELATED: Trump Is Reorganizing The Federal Government And His Interior Secretary Is Loving It)

Development will take place on land owned by a foundation started by Zinke and currently lead by his wife, Lola.

“Secretary Zinke doesn’t seem to take his responsibility to the public seriously,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, who sits on the House committee, said in a statement. “This formal investigation is one of many he’s managed to pile up in his short and undistinguished tenure, and I join my Democratic colleagues in seeking the transparency and accountability that Republicans have so far not provided.”

Zinke has previously been investigated for employee reassignments and taxpayer-funded travel.

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