Interior IG to scrutinize Zinke’s beer-making plans

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made no secret of his dream of opening a microbrewery in his hometown of Whitefish.

Now, the department’s inspector general will be asking if he colluded to have the chairman of Halliburton, one of the leading companies with business before the department, build him one.

In Whitefish, brewers and city officials told POLITICO that Zinke has long sought to build a microbrewery of his own, a project that over six years led him to submit plans to the City Council, discuss the move with other business leaders and personally join in a review process to change local zoning laws to make them more hospitable to such a business.

Meanwhile, a planned development in Whitefish backed by David Lesar, the chairman of Halliburton — the nation’s largest oil services company, which would be one of the biggest winners in the Interior Department’s drive to Continue reading “Interior IG to scrutinize Zinke’s beer-making plans”

Zinke seeks to explain meeting with Halliburton chairman

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sought Wednesday to explain his role in a real estate deal involving a nonprofit he launched and developers backed by the chairman of Halliburton, a major energy company with extensive business before his department.

In his first public comments on the deal since it was first reported by POLITICO last week, Zinke acknowledged meeting with Halliburton Chairman Dave Lesar and other developers in his Interior Department office, but said his involvement was limited to providing them background on the nonprofit and the land it owned, which had been donated by BNSF Railway years earlier. The developers all live in or near Whitefish, Mont., the secretary’s hometown where the development would be built.

"And then Dave Lesar and his son, who is developing a piece of property next door, they don’t understand, when they had the property, actually, the Veterans Peace Park owns the lot next Continue reading “Zinke seeks to explain meeting with Halliburton chairman”

Public Citizen seeks probe of Zinke connection to Halliburton chairman

A nonprofit watchdog group is asking for a conflict of interest investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s connection to a land deal with the chairman of Halliburton.

Public Citizen is asking the Interior Department’s top ethics officer to determine whether the arrangement violates any federal laws. A foundation Zinke launched to build a park in his hometown is aiding a proposed mixed-use real estate development backed by Halliburton Chairman David Lesar, as POLITICO reported Tuesday.

“The record of the direct involvement of the Zinke family and their Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation in a major real-estate project run by the chairman of Halliburton, and the business deal’s reported financial benefit to the Zinke family as well as to the Foundation, raises serious and numerous concerns of potential violations of the federal conflicts of interest code,” Public Citizen officials wrote in their letter Wednesday to Interior’s acting designated ethics official, Continue reading “Public Citizen seeks probe of Zinke connection to Halliburton chairman”

Zinke’s political ties to Virgin Islands improved Interior’s hurricane response, party boss says

The top GOP official in the U.S. Virgin Islands suggested his fundraising group’s "behind the scenes" relationship with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke helped influence the department’s response to last year’s hurricanes in the island territory.

John Canegata, the head of the Virgin Islands Republican Party, said he had direct access to Interior officials after the storm thanks to money his group raised for Zinke, whom he described as a "close friend." Zinke, a former congressman, has known Canegata since at least 2015, and the secretary was at a fundraiser for the VIGOP, as the group is known, during an official trip to the islands in his first month in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Interior officials acknowledged reaching out to Canegata, who also works for a major rum distiller in the territory, although they said it was part of a wider effort to contact business leaders based in the Continue reading “Zinke’s political ties to Virgin Islands improved Interior’s hurricane response, party boss says”

Zinke’s political ties to Virgin Islands improved Interior’s hurricane response, party boss says

The top GOP official in the U.S. Virgin Islands suggested his fundraising group’s "behind the scenes" relationship with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke helped influence the department’s response to last year’s hurricanes in the island territory.

John Canegata, the head of the Virgin Islands Republican Party, said he had direct access to Interior officials after the storm thanks to money his group raised for Zinke, whom he described as a "close friend." Zinke, a former congressman, has known Canegata since at least 2015, and the secretary was at a fundraiser for the VIGOP, as the group is known, during an official trip to the islands in his first month in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Interior officials acknowledged reaching out to Canegata, who also works for a major rum distiller in the territory, although they said it was part of a wider effort to contact business leaders based in the Continue reading “Zinke’s political ties to Virgin Islands improved Interior’s hurricane response, party boss says”

Zinke failed to disclose campaign ties to speech host, IG says

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke failed to disclose relevant information to ethics officials when he traveled to Las Vegas to speak to the Golden Knights hockey team last year, the department’s watchdog reported Monday — including the fact that one of his biggest campaign donors owned the team.

The report by Interior’s inspector general also raised questions about whether taxpayers should have been on the hook for a $12,000 charter flight that Zinke took after the speech from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana. Because Zinke’s speech did not even mention the Interior Department, the IG said it’s unlikely ethics officials would have OK’d it as official business.

"If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight," the report said. "Moreover, had ethics officials been Continue reading “Zinke failed to disclose campaign ties to speech host, IG says”

FEC increases scrutiny of Zinke’s former PAC

The Federal Election Commission is asking a leadership PAC previously affiliated with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to account for more than $600,000 of previously unreported contributions from the first six months of 2017.

For most of the period in question, the committee, SEAL PAC, was overseen by Vincent DeVito, who is now a top aide to Zinke at the Interior Department, and this is the second time federal regulators have looked into discrepancies during his tenure. Zinke launched SEAL PAC when he was elected to Congress in 2014 and disaffiliated himself from the group after being selected to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet; DeVito was listed as the group’s treasurer until May, when he too joined the administration.

An Interior Department spokeswoman referred questions to the PAC. DeVito and SEAL PAC’s current treasurer did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The $600,000 discrepancy is large enough that the Continue reading “FEC increases scrutiny of Zinke’s former PAC”

Zinke brought security team to vacation in Turkey and Greece, records show

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife took security detail on their vacation to Greece and Turkey last year, official documents show, in what one watchdog group said could be a "questionable" use of taxpayer resources.

Zinke has faced questions for months over his travel expenses and use of official resources, as have other members of President Donald Trump’s administration such as EPA leader Scott Pruitt, who was revealed Tuesday to have spent $30,000 on security for an official trip to Italy last year.

Unlike Pruitt, Zinke was not conducting government business during his two-week vacation, which included stops in Istanbul and the Greek Isles. The documents do not reveal exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip.

Interior provided U.S. Park Police officers for Zinke’s security Continue reading “Zinke brought security team to vacation in Turkey and Greece, records show”

Oil group to lobby president after stay at Trump hotel

The oil industry’s top lobby group is holding a two-day board meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., before its executive committee goes to the White House to voice concerns about President Donald Trump’s proposed steel tariffs, sources familiar with the meetings told POLITICO.

The American Petroleum Institute’s annual board meeting that started Wednesday could involve up to 200 people representing various oil and gas companies — including the top executives of major oil companies — paying to stay at Trump’s hotel. It’s not known how much API is paying to the hotel, which is controlled by the Trump Organization, the family-owned business headed by the president’s son Donald Jr.

“This kind of thing was a fear a lot of people had when the president did not divest from his business,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for governance watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Continue reading “Oil group to lobby president after stay at Trump hotel”

Watchdog seeks probe into Zinke gun-club outing

A government watchdog group asked the Federal Election Commission on Thursday to investigate Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s appearance at Virgin Islands Fundraiser, and it plans to request that Interior’s Inspector General probe what it contends is his "pattern of violations" of ethics regulations.

The complaint letters from the Campaign Legal Center, which cite several POLITICO investigations as evidence, increase the scrutiny the former Montana congressman has faced over his habit of mixing official travel and political events in the Virgin Islands and the mainland. The Interior inspector general’s office is already conducting a review of Zinke’s travel and campaign finance practices, which it expects to release by April.

“In his short time in office, Secretary Zinke’s boundary-pushing — and, apparently, boundary-crossing — conduct has set a poor ethical example for the department’s staff,” the Campaign Legal Center wrote in a draft complaint it plans to send to the inspector general Continue reading “Watchdog seeks probe into Zinke gun-club outing”

Russian gas defies U.S. sanctions to reach New England

As the Trump administration slaps fresh sanctions on Russian energy companies, a cargo of Russian gas is set to power homes near Boston.

A tanker of liquefied natural gas from a Russian company on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list is scheduled to unload the fuel this weekend, making it the first shipment of gas from the country to ever reach the United States. It’s arriving just after the U.S. announced increased economic penalties Friday against Moscow-linked people and businesses because of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

Technically, the gas shipment does not appear to violate the prohibitions that the Obama administration imposed four years ago — it’s owned by a French energy trader and arriving on a French-owned vessel. But it shows the difficulty of enforcing sanctions involving energy cargoes, which can change hands frequently and are often mixed with fuel from multiple locations.

The Treasury Department expanded Continue reading “Russian gas defies U.S. sanctions to reach New England”

Trump’s energy juggernaut faces a more daunting Year 2

President Donald Trump has resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline, renounced the Paris climate agreement, opened a long-disputed Alaska refuge to oil drilling and ordered his agencies to erase Obama-era regulations on the petroleum, coal and power industries — all in the name of asserting U.S. “energy dominance.”

But from here on, his victories will become harder to achieve.

Reversing Barack Obama’s environmental and energy agenda is one of the Trump administration’s big first-year successes, alongside achievements like December’s $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. It has certainly been one of Trump’s most persistent strategies, as his agencies have moved to revoke Obama’s climate and water regulations, ease limits on fracking, wipe out drilling restrictions on almost the entire U.S. coastline and postpone energy-efficiency requirements.

Now, however, the courts will have their say in how far these rollbacks go, as much of Trump’s deregulatory agenda faces legal challenges from Continue reading “Trump’s energy juggernaut faces a more daunting Year 2”

Trump administration to push for oil drilling off Pacific, Atlantic, Florida coasts

The Trump administration is expected to announce Thursday that it will propose opening up nearly all federal waters for oil and gas drilling, giving the energy industry access to fields in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico that have been off limits for decades, according to two sources familiar with the plan.

The expansion is likely to trigger huge political backlash, particularly on the West Coast and in Florida, where offshore drilling has generated sharp opposition from residents, environmental groups and businesses who fear a spill like BP’s in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 could devastate beaches and destroy the tourist industry that is vital to the regional economies.

But the announcement of the proposal for a new five-year offshore drilling plan would follow through on President Donald Trump’s pledge to try to drive up U.S. oil production by opening up federal areas Continue reading “Trump administration to push for oil drilling off Pacific, Atlantic, Florida coasts”

Former Zinke PAC blames software for $200,000 accounting discrepancy

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s former PAC blamed a technical glitch for a nearly $200,000 discrepancy in its campaign finance reports and said it is working to fix problems identified by the FEC.

SEAL PAC told the FEC on Friday that faulty software led it to report having more cash on hand at the beginning of 2017 than at the beginning of last year. Zinke launched the leadership PAC when he was elected to the House as a Republican from Montana and stepped away from the group after joining President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in March.

Last month, the FEC asked SEAL PAC to explain why its report for the first six months of 2017 showed it had $408,882 in the bank as of Jan. 1, when its final 2016 report showed a balance of $215,633 on Dec. 31. The PAC said the data file accounting for the surge in cash it Continue reading “Former Zinke PAC blames software for $200,000 accounting discrepancy”

Zinke attacks reporting on helicopter rides

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Saturday attacked POLITICO’s coverage of his use of $14,000 in taxpayer-funded helicopter rides in the D.C. area — but offered no facts that contradicted the story that ran Thursday.

“Here are the #facts the DC media refuses to print,” Zinke said in a statement on his official Twitter account. “Recent articles about official Interior Department helicopter usage are total fabrications and a wild departure from reality."

His statement went on to note — as POLITICO’s story had said — that the trips in question had included a visit to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia and a flyover of a power line project in Virginia.

Zinke also defended a separate helicopter flight last summer over two national monuments in Nevada. POLITICO had reported in September on that flight, which Interior Department documents said cost at least $40,000.

POLITICO’s reporting was based on Continue reading “Zinke attacks reporting on helicopter rides”

Zinke booked government helicopters to attend D.C. events

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters this summer to take himself and staff to and from official events near Washington, D.C., in order to accommodate his attendance at a swearing-in ceremony for his replacement in Congress and a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to previously undisclosed official travel documents.

The travel logs, released to POLITICO via a Freedom of Information Act request, show Zinke using taxpayer-funded vehicles from the U.S. Park Police to help accommodate his political events schedule.

In a case detailed in the new documents, Zinke ordered a U.S. Park Police helicopter to take him and his chief of staff, Scott Hommel, to an emergency management exercise in Shepherdstown, W.Va., on June 21.

Zinke’s staff justified the $8,000 flight by saying official business would prevent him leaving Washington before 2 p.m., Continue reading “Zinke booked government helicopters to attend D.C. events”

Trump strips monument protections from 2 million acres in Utah

President Donald Trump announced Monday that he is removing more than 2 million acres of protected territory from two national monuments in Utah, handing a political win to the state’s lawmakers but setting off more protests from environmentalists and outdoor sports groups.

"You know how best to conserve this land for many, many years to come," Trump told a phalanx of the state’s Republican lawmakers in Salt Lake City, as he took yet another swipe at the conservation legacies of former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — and at regulators in Washington. "They don’t know your land and truly they don’t care for your land like you do. From now on that won’t matter."

The long-expected announcement was a victory for Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and other Utah Republicans who had pressed the administration to shrink the territories of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments Continue reading “Trump strips monument protections from 2 million acres in Utah”

Democrats worry Arctic National Wildlife Refuge being lost amid tax debate

Democrats’ fight to keep oil and gas rigs out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is losing ground as the Republican tax plan advances — and it’s almost as if no one has noticed.

The prospect of drilling in the untouched Alaskan tundra is as close to reality as it’s been in more than a decade, with none of the political drama that in past decades turned the refuge’s fate into a top-tier rallying cry for liberals. Legislation to allow drilling in ANWR is quietly hitching a ride on the tax code overhaul that Senate Republicans hope to complete by the end of the week, overshadowed by larger debates on whether the bill is a giveaway to rich people and corporations at the expense of the poor and working class.

“It’s really not gotten the attention that it should,” Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a member of the Energy and Natural Continue reading “Democrats worry Arctic National Wildlife Refuge being lost amid tax debate”

FEC probes discrepancies at former Zinke PAC

The Federal Election Commission is asking a leadership PAC previously affiliated with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to provide more details about its direct mail spending and to account for a $200,000 discrepancy in its account, among other issues in its most recent campaign finance report.

SEAL PAC, which Zinke launched after winning his first congressional race in 2014, has until Dec. 26 to address the issues identified by the FEC, according to a request sent Monday. The FEC also asks about incomplete information related to some donors, excess contributions and potentially misclassified spending, some of which occurred after Zinke’s affiliation with the leadership PAC ended when he joined President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in March.

When Zinke was in Congress, SEAL PAC raised most of its money from small-dollar donors and funneled it back to a handful of political operatives who have drawn criticism from other GOP candidates. That approach made Continue reading “FEC probes discrepancies at former Zinke PAC”

‘UGH!’: Zinke’s wife’s travel caused headaches for Interior staff

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s wife has frustrated department staffers by saddling them with extra work when she traveled with her husband on official business, according to new records that a liberal watchdog group says uncover the potential misuse of government resources.

The records document Lola Zinke’s last-minute requests to join high-level dinners and additions to the guest list for a conservative group’s event near the couple’s home in Southern California earlier this year. The Western Values Project filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last month to force Interior to release more than 100 pages of documents related to Lola Zinke’s trips with her husband and interactions with Interior staff.

Shared first with POLITICO, the documents shed new light on the outsize profile Lola Zinke has established compared with the typical Cabinet secretary’s spouse, including her dictating which people to invite to a town hall hosted by the conservative Young Continue reading “‘UGH!’: Zinke’s wife’s travel caused headaches for Interior staff”