Interior secretary met with tribal lawyer attached to Zinke casino dispute

Interior secretary met with tribal lawyer attached to Zinke casino dispute
© Greg Nash

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt met with a lawyer linked to a political scandal that in part led to the ousting of his predecessor 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, according to internal documents first reported on by The Guardian Wednesday.

Bernhardt, in April 2018, met with Marc Kasowitz, legal counsel for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, according to Berhardt’s daily summary cards. The meeting was not divulged in his public calendars.

The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation had sued to prevent the construction of a casino that was to be run by two other Indian tribes. 

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Interior initially indicated it would approve construction, but Zinke later ruled against that decision.

Interior Spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said the meeting between Kasowitz and Bernhardt last year was unrelated to the tribal casino and instead was about the Schaghticoke’s desire for federal recognition status.

A letter provided by Interior to The Hill dated May 22, 2018, shows a communication between Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation to Bernhardt asking him to “right this wrong” and reinstate tribal recognition.

"The purpose of the meeting with Kasowitz was to discuss Schaghticoke, a Connecticut state recognized Native - American tribe," Vander Voort said in a statement.

Velky told The Guardian the meeting with Bernhardt was about a different matter entirely — an unrelated state-level lawsuit.

Zinke's resignation came after the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General investigated Zinke's decision to block two tribes, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot, from building the Connecticut casino. It reportedly referred the matter to the Justice Department to investigate Zinke for lying. The episode played a key role in the secretary’s departure in January.

In a surprise announcement in March, Interior said it would reverse course and allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes the right to build the off-reservation casino in Connecticut, ending what was likely to be a lengthy legal battle.

Bernhardt has in the past also met with other figures in the lobbying effort against the casino's construction, including Gale Norton, a lobbyist for MGM, HuffPost first reported.

"The meeting with Norton was purely personal," Vander Voort said.