Zinke Moves to Private Career
Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is quickly parlaying his time in President Donald Trump’s cabinet into a lucrative private career.
He’s landed a more than $100,000-a-year post at a Nevada mining company and is pursuing involvement in natural gas exports that have surged under Trump, Zinke told The Associated Press Tuesday.
The rapid transition from the highest levels of the executive branch to the corporate boardroom is raising questions about possible conflicts of interest.
It comes fewer than four months after Zinke left a Cabinet position overseeing the country’s oil and gas, coal and other natural resources and those companies that profit off their extraction.
Zinke told AP that his work for Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp., which focuses on mining exploration and development, would not constitute lobbying. But the company’s CEO cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” with the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department in explaining his hiring as a consultant and board member.
“We’re excited to have Secretary Zinke help move us forward” on two pending mining projects, in Nevada and Wyoming, Edward Karr, head of U.S. Gold Corp., said by phone. The Nevada project, known as Keystone, is on bureau land.
A 2017 executive order from Trump said executive-branch appointees cannot lobby their former agency for at least five years after leaving their government post.
Separately, criminal statutes impose one and two-year bans on various kinds of communications between senior federal officials and their former agency, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit ethics-watchdog.
Zinke, who left Interior in January amid ethics allegations, said he sees no conflict in his new role and will have no direct contact with his former colleagues at the agency.
“I don’t lobby,” he said. “I just follow the law, so I don’t talk to anybody on the executive side or influence” anyone.
Zinke described the inside knowledge he gained at the helm of Interior as an asset as he moves into the corporate world.
“I understand the process. There’s very few former state senators, congressmen and secretaries that know more about the process than I do,” said Zinke, who served in the Montana Legislature and the U.S. House before being appointed to lead Interior.
The purpose of federal lobbying freezes by recently departed senior officials is “to make sure there’s a cooling-off period ... so the former agency is not subject to the influence of their former head,” Canter said.