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Sources: Interior secretary under investigation

The Department of Justice is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for using his office for personal gain, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. CNN's Pamela Brown reports.

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 12:19 PM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 12:37 PM

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.

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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 488170

Reported Deaths: 6602
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1012851589
Ramsey43273808
Dakota36543394
Anoka33430390
Washington22183261
Stearns18786202
St. Louis14866265
Scott13381107
Wright12580116
Olmsted1184890
Sherburne877174
Carver783241
Clay694587
Rice672291
Blue Earth599635
Kandiyohi580674
Crow Wing522782
Chisago501045
Otter Tail485570
Benton449290
Winona420049
Mower410031
Douglas393768
Goodhue388069
Nobles387147
Polk344663
McLeod340550
Beltrami338751
Morrison326247
Itasca314246
Becker313942
Lyon313844
Isanti308256
Steele303011
Carlton300249
Freeborn285824
Pine282616
Nicollet261541
Todd249230
Brown247237
Le Sueur237420
Mille Lacs229047
Cass221024
Waseca210117
Meeker208134
Martin190629
Wabasha18713
Roseau180917
Hubbard160741
Houston158114
Dodge15384
Renville151640
Redwood147127
Fillmore13908
Pennington137716
Chippewa136835
Cottonwood135920
Wadena131320
Faribault124517
Aitkin119233
Watonwan11798
Sibley117610
Rock116114
Kanabec108119
Pipestone101824
Yellow Medicine97717
Murray9538
Jackson94210
Swift87818
Pope8095
Marshall78415
Stevens7468
Lake74218
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68616
Wilkin67711
Koochiching62111
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5122
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned44768
Mahnomen4437
Kittson40921
Red Lake3615
Traverse3105
Lake of the Woods2221
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 336947

Reported Deaths: 5491
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51993559
Linn19497317
Scott17149212
Black Hawk14956293
Woodbury13828214
Johnson1314875
Dubuque12444195
Dallas1021893
Pottawattamie9877146
Story963545
Warren514076
Clinton502184
Cerro Gordo500683
Webster495588
Sioux479869
Marshall464273
Des Moines427961
Muscatine425693
Buena Vista412637
Wapello4042110
Jasper387267
Plymouth368578
Lee354453
Marion341171
Jones285055
Henry279837
Bremer270255
Carroll266649
Crawford253535
Boone244030
Benton240854
Washington239247
Mahaska215746
Jackson209939
Dickinson204140
Tama202865
Kossuth198655
Delaware186140
Clay184425
Winneshiek183228
Fayette179235
Page177919
Buchanan177829
Wright174231
Hamilton173842
Cedar172723
Hardin169839
Harrison167670
Clayton160154
Butler159231
Mills148420
Floyd148141
Poweshiek148030
Cherokee146236
Lyon145541
Allamakee144148
Madison143018
Iowa140323
Hancock138030
Grundy132230
Winnebago130531
Calhoun129411
Cass129251
Jefferson128634
Appanoose123347
Louisa122444
Mitchell120540
Chickasaw119915
Union119131
Sac118718
Shelby117433
Emmet115440
Humboldt113725
Guthrie109628
Franklin109219
Palo Alto101321
Howard99522
Montgomery96936
Clarke95020
Keokuk92529
Monroe89828
Adair81529
Ida81532
Pocahontas80919
Davis76523
Monona76427
Greene73110
Lucas72121
Osceola68315
Worth6678
Unassigned6590
Taylor64112
Decatur5699
Fremont5599
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50620
Audubon4769
Wayne47121
Adams3184
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