Environmentalists are calling for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to resign over a decade-old land deal that is under investigation by the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
“Zinke’s scandals are the definition of corruption and conflict of interest. Secretary Zinke will personally profit from his foundation’s deal with the chairman of dirty energy giant Halliburton,” Friends of the Earth senior program manager Nicole Ghio said in a statement. “It is time for Zinke to be fired. Congress must exercise its oversight authority and act to protect our public lands, our communities and our planet.”
House Democrats requested the investigation after Politico originally reported on the land deal June 19. The IG investigation will assess whether the land swap or current plans for development violate conflict of interest laws. (RELATED: Liberals Call For Investigation Over Ryan Zinke’s Sock)
“You expressed special concern about the reported funding by a top executive at Halliburton and assuring decisions that affect the nation’s welfare are not compromised by individual self-enrichment,” IG deputy Mary Kendall wrote Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and other Democrats, according to Politico. “My office opened an investigation into this matter on July 16.”
The Halliburton executive in question is David Lesar, who served as chairman of the oil and gas company from 2000 to 2017. Lesar is working with a local developer, Casey Malmquist, whom Lesar has known for decades, to redevelop the site of a shuttered timber plant. The site sits next to land owned by the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation (GNVPPF), a non-profit set up by Zinke. Zinke resigned from GNVPPF and turned it over to his wife in 2017 to avoid any conflicts of interest in his position as DOI secretary.
BNSF Railway donated the land to Zinke’s non-profit in 2008, the same year Zinke retired from the Navy SEALs. He pledged to build a “children’s sledding park and community open space in a setting that recognizes the contributions of the railroad and the veterans to the community,” according to Zinke’s statement to Politico.
Malmquist and Zinke worked out a shared use agreement where part of a parking lot would be built on GNVPPF land to “benefit both the peace park and our project,” Malmquist told Montana’s Flathead Beacon. Malmquist and Lesar are developing the land neighboring the GNVPPF park to house a microbrewery, marketplace and other businesses.
Malmquist slammed Politico after the original report linking Zinke to Lesnar was published.
“I have been a developer and builder in this community for 25 years. I literally looked at this as a legacy project to give back to the community and build something that fits with the growing town,” Malmquist told the Flathead Beacon. “We followed the Highway 93 West corridor plan; we followed the downtown master plan. It is a good project that went through all the right channels. It just happens to be that Dave Lesar is the former CEO of Halliburton and Ryan Zinke is the peace park guy. That is the extent of it. There’s no corruption.”
The Whitefish city council vetted and approved Lesnar and Malmquist’s plan for development, Montana’s Daily Inter Lake reported.
“They literally have made a mountain out of a sled hill,” Malmquist said.