Trump's Interior secretary Zinke broke ethics rules, watchdog says

Ryan Zinke
(Image credit: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

Ryan Zinke broke federal ethics rules while serving as secretary of the Interior under former President Donald Trump, the Interior Department's internal watchdog said Wednesday.

According to The Washington Post, Zinke, who served one term in the House of Representatives before joining Trump's cabinet, committed ethical breaches by "improperly participating in real estate negotiations with the chairman of the energy giant Halliburton at the time and other developers … to discuss the design of a large commercial and residential development in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana." Zinke also reportedly had federal employees set up his meetings with those developers.

Zinke's family foundation, which his wife, Lola, runs, had agreed to donate a parking lot for the project. David J. Lesar, the then-chairman of Halliburton, funded the development group.

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Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt's 32-page report concludes that, despite Zinke's ethical violations, he did not break the law. Per the Post, the "did not find evidence that Zinke had used his position to benefit Halliburton or for his own financial gain." The Post also notes, however, that "the project had the potential to increase the value of multiple parcels of land the Zinkes owned nearby."

Zinke resigned in January 2019 after being plagued by scandal throughout his tenure as secretary. He drew criticism for taking 66 personal days in his first 18 months as secretary and quickly became the subject of at least three investigations. He also falsely claimed to be a geologist more than 40 times. By late 2018, Trump was considering firing him.

Zinke became a lobbyist after resigning and is now running for a second term in the House of Representatives.

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