Interior watchdog launches investigation into Zinke over real estate deal

Interior watchdog launches investigation into Zinke over real estate deal
© Greg Nash

The Interior Department's Inspector General (IG) is investigating a real estate deal involving Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument New policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press MORE and the chairman of a leading oil services company, the IG office confirmed to the Hill Wednesday.

The investigation will focus on a Montana-based commercial development that Zinke is poised to benefit from financially, Politico first reported Wednesday.

The investigation will center on a real estate deal involving Zinke, his wife and his daughter and Haliburton Chairman David Lesar in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Mont.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, initially proposed the development in 2012 Politico first reported. The project, a large commercial development on a former industrial site, is largely backed by a group funded by Lesar, and a foundation established by Zinke is playing a key role in the plans. Interior IG's office originally confirmed late last month that it was assessing the allegations, but did not not confirm a formal investigation.

Three Democratic House lawmakers called for the investigation, and cited emails that showed Zinke met with Lesar and his son, as well as Montana developer Casey Malmquist, at his Interior offices on August 3, 2017.

The news comes the same day that the House voted down an amendment in the 'minibus’ appropriations bill that would have increased funding for the Interior Department's IG office by $2.5 million. 

Last year the IG office found Zinke failed to properly document his travel and is currently investigating accusations that Interior improperly reassigned a number of employees.

This story was updated at 6:05 p.m.