Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke holds shares in a firearms company he did not disclose, then met with heads of the company on government time.
Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s handpicked secretary of the Interior, has been caught hiding a financial interest in a firearms company.
Zinke did not disclose that he holds shares in PROOF Research Inc., a company from his home state of Montana. PROOF’s website notes that it manufactures “composite barrels, stocks, and complete rifles” at its Montana facility.
After being contacted by Huffpost, Zinke and PROOF revealed that Zinke owns 1,000 shares in the private company.
The holdings are not on the disclosure form that Zinke submitted to the Office of Government Ethics when he joined the Trump administration in January of 2017.
In his capacity as a member of the Cabinet, Zinke nonetheless had an official meeting with PROOF in April 2017. In that meeting he spoke to the company’s president and founder K.K. Jense and CEO Larry Murphy.
Zinke also met with the company’s lobbyist and director of research.
In the last year, PROOF received at least one government contract. PROOF was then paid $11.4 million from the Department of Defense for work on future weapon systems.
The Campaign Legal Center has filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Inspector General alleging that Zinke “appears to have violated a federal criminal conflict of interest law.”
Virginia Canter, executive branch ethics counsel at the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told HuffPost, “The fact that he met with company executives is troubling since by law he’s required to recuse himself from participating in particular matters that would directly and predictably affect the company.”
The unethical arrangement shines a spotlight on Zinke’s entanglement with the gun industry.
Speaking to the NRA’s annual leadership forum in 2017, he heaped praise on the gun extremists: “Thank you for being there when we needed it. Thank you for everything that you will do, because I know with this group, guns and freedom matter.”
He added, “God bless you. And God bless the NRA.”
Soon after he took over the department, Zinke had private meetings in his federal office with Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA.
In a press release, the NRA said they “now have a friend at the White House in President Trump and at the Department of Interior in Secretary Ryan Zinke.”
This isn’t the first scandal to erupt in Zinke’s short tenure. He was caught using funds earmarked to help fire relief efforts on a helicopter ride.
Zinke also used military flights, operating at taxpayer expense, to attend a partisan political fundraiser.
Like the other Trump Cabinet members caught up in scandals, Zinke’s behavior echoes Trump’s. Trump has not divested from his private holdings and continues to benefit via guests that go to his D.C. hotel to influence him.
Similarly, Trump’s own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has repeatedly omitted information from his disclosure forms. Kushner hiding his assets is unethical, but thanks to his Russia connections it also leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
When Trump’s underlings hide assets, unethically pursue business interests on the public dime, and hide it all, they learned it from watching him.