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The business and retail park, known as 95 Karrow, would be near parcels of land owned by Zinke and his wife, Lola. The inspector general is looking at discussions Zinke had with Lesar and others about the development that could indicate he was using his office to enrich himself.
Interior has played no role in the Montana project, but congressional Democrats asked for an investigation in June because the department issues regulations on oil and gas development that have financial implications for companies such as Lesar’s.
No decision about Zinke’s tenure has been made, the officials said. But the shift within the West Wing highlights the extent to which the interior secretary’s standing has slipped in recent months.
This week, Interior’s Office of Inspector General referred the inquiry — one of several probes into the secretary’s conduct — to the Justice Department to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted. That referral concerns Zinke’s involvement in a Whitefish, Mont., land development deal backed by David J. Lesar, chairman of the oil services firm Halliburton.