Tag Archives: Antofagasta

Sonny Perdue “Broke His Word” on the Boundary Waters

Representative Betty McCollum said last week that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had broken his word and betrayed his responsibility to care for public lands.

She made these remarks in response to Perdue’s cancellation of the two-year environmental review of the mining withdrawal of Forest Service lands adjacent to the Boundary Waters.

McCollum called out this exchange with Perdue on May 25, 2017.


(A transcript of the exchange may be found here).

It’s interesting, and in hindsight it’s perhaps telling, that Perdue answers before US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell can. Just about five months earlier, in December of 2016, Tidwell had stated unequivocally that allowing the Twin Metals mine would likely result in acid mine drainage to the Boundary Waters and the surrounding watershed — “an unacceptable risk.” But before Tidwell has a chance to answer — and presumably walk the committee through these findings — his new boss takes it upon himself to respond.

Perdue right away reassures McCollum and other members of the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee that he and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had “already met about this,” and they had agreed that “none of us, I’m not smart enough to know what to do without the facts base and the sound science, and we are absolutely allowing [the study] to proceed.” But despite this pledge, his posturing before the committee (“the buck stops here”), and his invocation of the “Hippocratic oath: first of all, do no harm,”

Secretary Perdue broke his word, bending to political pressure from a foreign mining company and abandoning sound science to give a green light to toxic sulfide-ore mining in the watershed that feeds the BWCA. Like the President he serves, Sec. Perdue’s word cannot be trusted.

McCollum’s statement continues:

The Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Rainy River Watershed mining withdrawal study is a politically-motivated and callous betrayal of their responsibility to care for our public lands. It completely disregards the scientific evidence that sulfide-ore mining in the watershed will cause irreparable harm to the pristine wilderness of the Boundary Waters. The Trump Administration is eliminating sound science from the equation in order to ram through a destructive giveaway to their friends at a foreign-owned mining corporation.

McCollum understood back in 2017 that Perdue was “receiving pressure from the mining industry.” Along with the Department of the Interior, the Executive Office of the President, and members of the House and Senate, the new Secretary of Agriculture was already being lobbied on the Twin Metals mineral leases. Lobbying reports filed by WilmerHale indicate that an inter-agency, full court press was already underway as early as the first quarter of 2017, even earlier than agency calendars or the timeline I have put together from them indicate.

So it’s hard to credit Perdue’s representations to the House committee in May of 2017 that when he and Zinke met to discuss the Twin Metals mineral leases, they agreed that they were not the smartest guys in the room, and they should wait to have all the facts before rushing headlong into any decisions. It now appears their minds were already being made up for them.

Postscript. 15 September 2018. Some notes on the Zinke-Perdue meeting in this Twitter thread.

 

Another Look at the Twin Metals Timeline

Rees20170502AntofagastaIn response to a FOIA request I made back in April, the Department of the Interior has released Gareth Rees’ 2017 work calendar. Rees has served as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior since George W. Bush’s first term. He did not arrive with the so-called “beachhead” teams brought in by the current administration with the express mission of sabotaging and dismantling the government agencies entrusted to their care. Still, his calendar (which I’ve put up here, on DocumentCloud) adds more pieces to the puzzle.

Rees’ calendar drew my attention to a couple of meetings I hadn’t noticed before and which are now represented on the timeline. There is a June 15, 2017 meeting at Interior with a group called Jobs for Minnesotans — a front for the building trades that is currently lobbying for both the Twin Metals project near the Boundary waters and the Polymet project to the south, near Hoyt Lakes. Jobs for Minnesotans is a 501c4 “social welfare” or dark money organization of the kind I’ve written about in connection with mining projects in Michigan and Wisconsin. As a 2016 Pro Publica report suggests, these organizations are designed for those who prefer backroom deals to sunlight. 501c4s like Jobs for Minnesotans are used to channel money from private interests into public process, and coordinate localized efforts to remove environmental protections and undo regulation through regional and national networks.

A May 2, 2017 meeting with Antofagasta plc has also been added to the timeline. This meeting brought together representatives of the Chilean conglomerate with a large group of officials at the Department of the Interior just one month after Interior appears to have taken up the matter. Apparently meeting with Antofagasta was a priority. The company’s subsidiaries Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals had sued the Department of Interior in February of 2017. The complaint makes the mining companies’ position abundantly clear. And yet administration officials seem to have been anxious to sit down with the Chilean parent company and discuss its leases. Why? (It’s not likely that the same courtesy will be extended to the ten Minnesota plaintiffs now complaining that in reinstating Antofagasta’s leases the Department of Interior exceeded its lawful authority and acted in an arbitrary and capricious way.)

The first meeting with Antofagasta, in early May, appears to have set the agenda; the second meeting with Antofagasta, on July 25th, looks as if it were called to reach an agreement. The July meeting with Antofagasta includes all Interior officials present at the May 2nd meeting as well as some important decision makers: Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management Michael Nedd, and Edward Passarelli, Deputy Chief at the Natural Resources Section of the Department of Justice.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Department of Interior worked steadily and closely behind closed doors with lobbyists and mining executives to renew Antofagasta’s mineral leases in Superior National Forest. This would conform to the general pattern at Interior under Zinke’s leadership. “A deeply problematic culture of secrecy…has taken root in the Department of the Interior,” the organization Earthjustice charges, “keeping the American public in the dark about major decisions, important records, and meetings with industry that affect the lands and resources the agency holds in trust for the American people.”

In this case, the mining company ran a full court press; the public was kept almost entirely out of the process. The deed appears to have been done well before the end of summer 2017. The legal review that would result in the Jorjani Memo of December 22nd appears to have been nothing more than an exercise in a foregone conclusion — a sham.

What Scott Pruitt’s Troubles Tell Us About Corruption in Kalorama

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the situation at 2449 Tracy Place NW, where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump rent a mansion owned by Chilean mining billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig, and Scott Pruitt’s sweetheart deal to rent a bedroom in a Washington DC condo owned by the wife of powerful lobbyist Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, for fifty dollars a night. But that will not get us very far, and it’s best not to conflate the two cases.

To begin with, Jared and Ivanka are reportedly paying market rate for their place: $15,000 / month. While no one, to my knowledge, has seen records of those monthly payments in the form of cancelled checks or electronic transfer receipts, it seems pretty safe to assume that rent is actually being collected. Doesn’t it? The corporation that owns the property, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc., was formed by Luksic’s lawyers at Duane Morris LLP in Boston, and the deal was put together by one of the Washington DC’s “top-producing” real estate agents: Cynthia Howar, who is herself a member of the bar. The lawyers, one would like to think, took care of the details.

Not so in Scott Pruitt’s case. Despite the friendly terms, Pruitt fell behind on his rental payments, according to Politico, “forcing his lobbyist landlord to pester him for payment.” Pruitt’s landlord, Vicki Hart, did not have the appropriate business license to rent out a room in her Washington, DC condo, and now faces fines of up to $2000.

In Kalorama, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc. had obtained the business license for a one family rental from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in the District of Columbia by March of 2017. That license is good for two years, until February 28, 2019. Who can say where the first family tenants will be by then?

Of course, there is one important parallel to draw between the Pruitt case and the situation at Tracy Place. It doesn’t have to do with licenses or rental agreements or payments. It has to do with ethics — or an apparent lack of concern with ethics.

Scott Pruitt rushed an ethics review of his bedroom rental only after news stories about the deal started to appear. The review was botched, or its conclusions were forced; it’s unclear which. The EPA’s top ethics official now says he needs to revisit the matter, because he was not in full possession of the facts when he retroactively approved the arrangement. This only serves to highlight that the right time for Scott Pruitt to ask whether the rental was permissible or appropriate was before entering into it.

Much the same could be said of Jared and Ivanka’s rental of the Kalorama mansion: the lawyers may have left nothing undone, but there is still the question whether this rental agreement ought to have been struck in the first place, given the fact that the mansion’s owner — or the mining conglomerate his family controls — was suing the U.S. government over the renewal of mining leases.

Twin Metals Minnesota had already sued the United States government back in September of 2016 over lack of action on the Superior National Forest leases. When the Obama administration did act in December of 2016, denying renewal of the leases, and launching a study of a 20-year ban on sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, it was clear Twin Metals would sue again.

This second suit was filed by Antofagasta’s subsidiaries, Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals, on February 21, 2017, just about a week before Tracy DC Real Estate obtained its license to rent the Kalorama mansion as a one family unit. A review of the rental agreement should obviously have been undertaken by the Office of the White House Counsel, with these and other facts in view, if only to preempt scandal-mongering and dispel any appearance of impropriety.

One of the earliest reports of the rental agreement in the Wall Street Journal quotes Rob Walker, a lawyer in private practice who specializes in election law and government ethics, to the effect that “there might not be an ethics problem” as long as the mansion is being rented at fair market value. Maybe not. But I’ve been unable to find any indication that a formal ethics review of the Kalorama rental agreement was ever requested or conducted.

Twin Metals At Interior – A Timeline

March 8, 2016 Department of Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins issues an ‘M Opinion’ providing the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management discretion to grant or deny Twin Metals Minnesota lease renewal application.
July 1, 2016 Seth P. Waxman of Wilmer Hale writes to Solicitor Tompkins on behalf of Twin Metals, arguing that her Opinion was arrived at erroneously and should be withdrawn.
December 15, 2016 After the Forest Service notifies the Bureau of Land Management that it does not consent to the renewal of Twin Metals mineral leases in Superior National Forest, the Obama administration releases Memo M-37036, denying renewal of Twin Metals leases. Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc. formed in DC by Luksic’s lawyers.
December 22, 2016 Tracy DC Real Estate Inc. purchases the Kalorama Triangle mansion at 2449 Tracy Pl NW. [For this part of the story, see this post.]
January 3, 2017 First news reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are moving into the Kalorama mansion.
January 4, 2017 Official sale date entered for the Kalorama mansion.
February 7, 2017 Michael Nedd of the Bureau of Land Management forwards a briefing paper “previously used to brief the DOI leadership” to staff; cc: Karen Hawbecker and Aaron G. Moody in the office of the Solicitor; “as discussed, we would appreciate you all working together to come up with an updated BP with respect to Withdrawal options.”
February 9, 2017 email, Karen Hawbecker to Jack Haugrud, includes a “briefing paper to introduce the topic of the Twin Metals litigation to the SOL transition team.”
A paper prepared by Elena Fink of the Bureau of Land Management “options for addressing the withdrawal in Superior National Forest” begins to circulate: forwarded by Karen Mouritsen to Karen Hawbecker. Another email from Aaron G. Moody to Jack Haugrud recommends that Interior “work off of” the BLM paper.
February 21, 2017 Antofagasta subsidiaries Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals sue the United States Department of Interior over the withdrawal.
February 22, 2017 A “fire drill”: the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management has asked the Bureau of Land Management “for a brief ‘nutshell’ on the Twin Metals/Superior National Forest matter that can be given to the soon-to-be-confirmed Secretary [Ryan Zinke].” The paper will be included in Zinke’s briefing book.
February 28, 2017 Tracy DC Real Estate obtains business license for the rental at 2449 Tracy Pl. NW. The license expires in 2019.
March 7, 2017 Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior Jim Cason meets with Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management Kristin Bail “and one of the issues they will discuss is the Superior NF withdrawal,” according to a March 6, 2017 email from BLM’s Bev Winston to DOI’s Karen Hawbecker. Winston asks specifically whether Hawbecker’s staff has “prepared anything on BLM’s options with regard to stopping the withdrawal process?”
April 6, 2017 Kathleen Benedetto: Ext. Meeting Boundary Waters [with?].
April 18, 2017 Benedetto: Ext. Mtg. Twin Metals [with? Cf. Friday 16 June].
April 19, 2017 Benedetto: Twin Metals. On the calendar of Karen Hawbecker, Associate Solicitor, Dept. of Interior.
April 21, 2017 email from Karen Hawbecker to Jack Haugrud: Twin Metals “options” paper requesting feedback, “to make sure you’re ok with the approach we’ve taken.”
April 24, 2017 On the calendar of Katharine MacGregor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Meeting with Timothy G. Martin of Wilmer Hale, on behalf of Twin Metals Minnesota. MacGregor has a call with Jorjani scheduled immediately after this meeting.
April 26, 2017 On the calendar of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: meeting with Landon Zinda, legislative council for Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN, 6th District) and Will Mitchell, Legislative Director for Representative Rick Nolan (DFL-MN, 6th District). A briefing by Kathy Benedetto and Kate MacGregor of the Department of Interior on the Twin Metals Leases.
April 28, 2017 Benedetto Meeting with Rob Lehman, WilmerHale re: Twin Metals Minnesota. On the calendar of Gareth Rees, Executive Assistant at US Department of the Interior. There is also an entry for the same 11AM meeting with Lehman on the Deputy Secretary Conference Room calendar. Created by Deputy Secretary Catherine Gulac.
April 28 2017 Benedetto: Twin Metals briefing. On the calendar of Briana Collier. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor. An email from Karen Hawbecker to Jack Haugrud on April 27 specifies the purpose of this meeting: “to get some feedback from [Benedetto] on the options we’ve identified for reversing action on the Twin Metals decision.”
May 2, 2017 On the calendar of Gareth Rees: Meeting with Antofagasta plc re: Twin Metals Minnesota Project. Included in this meeting: Gareth Rees, James Cason, Katharine MacGregor, Michael Anderson, Kathleen Benedetto, [Linda Thurn], Richard Cardinale, Tracie Lassiter, Kevin Haugrud, Mariagrazia Caminiti, Karen Hawbecker. According to internal email correspondence on April 28, 2017, the Antofagasta delegation includes: Ivan Arriagada, CEO, Antofagasta plc; Daniel Altikes, Executive Director, Antofagasta plc; Rob Lehman, Chair of the WilmerHale Public Policy Practice; Andy Spielman, Chair of the WilmerHale Energy and Natural Resources Practice. An April 28th email from Karen Hawbecker to Lisa Russell at the Environmental Resources Division of DOJ indicates “this same group [from Antofagasta] may also have a meeting at the White House.”
May 3, 2017 Benedetto: Meet and Greet with Representatives of Save the Boundary Waters.
May 4, 2017 On the calendar of Ryan Zinke: In-person meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Perdue will refer to this meeting in his 25 May appearance before the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee..
May 25, 2017 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appears before the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee.
May 26, 2017 Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani call with Rachel Jacobson of WilmerHale, regarding a “DC Bar Event.”
June 1, 2017 email, Karen Hawbecker to Jack Haugrud: The White House “has expressed interest in the Twin Metals matter and Doug Domenich [sic] wants to talk to the WH today.” Kathleen Benedetto drafts a memo for Domenech on the Twin Metals Project.
June 9, 2017 Benedetto: Chat w/Timothy Martin from WilmerHale, re: Twin Metals – Minnesota. On the calendar of Katharine MacGregor, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.
June 14, 2017 Daniel Jorjani meets with Raya Treiser and Andy Spielman of WilmerHale.
June 15, 2017 On the calendar of Gareth Rees: meeting with Jobs for Minnesotans.
June 16, 2017 Benedetto Ext. Mtg. Twin Metals – Bob McFarlin [at that time, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs, Twin Metals Minnesota].
June 19, 2017 Meeting w/ USDA and DOI on Twin Metals Superior National Forest. On the calendar of Katharine MacGregor.
July 11, 2017 Call between Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. Also attending: Jennie Maes, Assistant Chief of Staff to Governor Dayton. Topic: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and nearby copper-nickel mining.
July 25, 2017 All Hands on Deck for meeting with Antofagasta Plc re: Twin Metals Minnesota Project. On the calendar of Gareth Rees. Included: Kevin Haugrud, Katharine MacGregor, Michael Anderson, Karen Hawbecker, Kathleen Benedetto, James Cason, Gareth Rees, Linda Thurn, Richard Cardinale, Tracie Lassiter, Mariagrazia Caminiti, Edward Passarelli, Michael Nedd, Daniel Jorjani.
August 6, 2017 Karen Hawbecker forwards a briefing paper “about the Twin Metals litigation in preparation for a meeting” with Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
August 9, 2017 Katharine MacGregor: meeting with Chad Horrell, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.
August 22, 2017 Daniel Jorjani meeting on “Minnesota Project” with Michael J. Catanzaro, (White House, Executive Office of the President), Stephen Vaden (White House, Office of the General Counsel).
September 7, 2017 Internal meeting at Department of Interior on Twin Metals: Daniel Jorjani with Jack Haugrud.
September 21, 2017 Phone call: Twin Metals. On the calendar of James Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary of the Interior. James Cason with Associate Solicitor John Hay; Associate Solicitor, Division of Indian Affairs Eric Shepard; Deputy Secretary Catherine Gulac; Associate Solicitor Karen Hawbecker.
October 4, 2017 Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt briefed on Twin Metals.
December 22, 2017 Principal Deputy Solicitor Jordan releases Memo M-37049, allowing Twin Metals to renew its leases of Superior National Forest lands.
3:17PM email from Jack Haugrud to Solicitor’s office: “Just got a call from Raya [B. Treiser] at Wilmer[Hale]. Twin Metals is moving today to dismiss their case against us.”

How this timeline came about:

Back in March of 2018, reporting by Jimmy Tobias gave us a little more insight into the Boundary Waters reversal. (My posts on the topic are collected here.) Through a records request, Tobias obtained the calendar of Kathleen Benedetto, Special Assistant to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Described as “a fixer for the mining companies,” Benedetto now helps oversee the Bureau of Land Management. She has publicly taken the position that conservation of public lands is a barrier to “progress.”

The Benedetto calendar gave us a much fuller chronology and more detail than we previously had. Tobias identified at least six meetings or communications with mining interests on Benedetto’s calendar regarding the Twin Metals project in Superior National Forest, including the July 25th all-hands-on-deck meeting between high-ranking Interior officials and representatives of Antofagasta Plc. I subsequently learned that the group had met with Antofagasta earlier, on May 2nd, less than a month after Benedetto started meeting with mining company representatives.

When I put Benedetto’s calendar together with the Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani’s calendar, this timeline started to come into focus. Since then, I have been able to consult other calendars and received some materials in response to two FOIA requests. It is now clear that Interior was holding internal meetings about Twin Metals and the withdrawal of Superior National Forest lands in the first weeks of the new administration, and as early as February of 2017.

So there were many meetings about the Twin Metals project before Benedetto hosted a “meet and greet” with a Boundary Waters conservation group on May 3rd, 2017; and it looks as if the reversal was a done deal by the time Katharine MacGregor met with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters’ Chad Horrell on August 9th.

At the very least, this timeline indicates that restoring Twin Metals “right of renewal” for their mineral leases in Superior National Forest was a priority at Interior from the moment the Trump administration took office.

The lobbying effort was a full court press, led by Raya Treiser, Rob Lehman, and Andy Spielman of WilmerHale. Litigation counsel for Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta plc — Daniel Volchok, Michael Hazel, and Paul Wolfson — are also from WilmerHale.

Note: I’ll continue to make updates to this timeline as DOI releases more materials in response to FOIA requests.

From Caval to Kalorama

Kalorama

The Washington, D.C. mansion rented by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

We know this much. In December of 2016, just after the election, Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig bought the Kalorama Triangle mansion that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump now rent in Washington, D.C.. Just about six months later*, records show, the Department of Interior began drafting the December 22nd, 2017 memo that would reverse Obama-era protections for the Boundary Waters and renew the lease of lands in Superior National Forest held by Twin Metals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Antofagasta Plc, the mining conglomerate controlled by the Luksic family. Headlines have hinted at corrupt dealings, as I’ve noted in previous posts, but no hard evidence has come to light.

Maybe it’s all just a happy coincidence of the kind that frequently befalls the world of billionaires, mansions, and yachts. In any case, Andronico Luksic Craig, Jared and Ivanka’s landlord, is clearly a master of such coincidences. Journalist Horacio Brum dubs him “el gran titiritero de Chile,” the great puppetmaster of Chile. He is “a man who does not need to do politics,” writes Brum, “because he makes politicians.” The role Andronico Luksic Craig played in the scandal known in Chile as “el Caso Caval” — The Caval Affair — is illustrative.

The Caval Affair involved a $10 million loan for a shady real estate scheme undertaken in late 2013 by Natalia Compagnon, the daughter-in-law of Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, and 50 percent owner of a company called Sociedad Exportadora y de Gestión Caval Limitada. El Caso Caval was a drawn out and complicated affair, and charges of corruption and influence peddling would dog Compagnon and the Bachelet family for years. Just one feature of the scandal needs to concern us at the moment, and that’s the timing of the loan itself.

In the months immediately preceding Bachelet’s election, Compagnon had been trying to secure a line of credit for her company to purchase three plots of land in Machalí, in the O’Higgins Region in central Chile. Compagnon and her husband, Sebastian Davalos Michelet, met with the Vice President of Banco de Chile to discuss the project on November 6th, 2013. This was about ten days before the elections, which were scheduled for November 17th. The loan was approved on December 16th, 2013, just a month after Michelle Bachelet was elected to the presidency. The Vice President of the Banco de Chile who made these timely financial arrangements for the daughter-in-law of the new president elect was none other than Andronico Luksic Craig.

This time-lapse illustration produced for the news organization 24 Horas lays out the whole scandal in less than three minutes. Even if your Spanish is rusty, you can follow the story. Luksic first appears around 1:26.

The pattern looks familiar. When questioned about the loan, Luksic Craig at first denied meeting the young couple more than once. (This is classic Luksic, who claims never to have met his first family tenants, and only to have said hello to Trump himself once, at a Patriots’ football game in 2012.) Only later did he admit to various meetings and contacts between him and Compagnon, including one the day after Bachelet won the election. As the scandal grew, Andronico Luksic Craig managed to retreat back into the shadows and to keep himself and the Luksic family out of the headlines.

So far, the almost daily revelations of Jared Kushner’s far-flung attempts to bail out his family’s foundering real estate empire have not turned up anything that connects Kushner’s business troubles to Chile’s Grupo Luksic or the Luksic family. But it would not be terribly surprising to learn that there is more to the Kushner story and that Kalorama mansion than Luksic Craig claims. The president’s son-in-law is a quo looking for a quid, and when it comes to making that sort of delicate arrangement, Andronico Luksic Craig appears to be a real pro.

*Since writing this post, I have reviewed documents obtained through FOIA request that show the Department of the Interior working on the reversal of Obama administration protections for the Boundary Waters as early as February, 2017, just weeks after the inauguration.

Another Note on the Boundary Waters Reversal

Jorjani Calendar

A 25 July 2017 entry from Daniel Jorjani’s calendar shows a meeting with Antofagasta Plc on the Twin Metals project.

One point I hoped to get across in Monday’s post about the Boundary Waters reversal has to do with journalism, or, more broadly, with storytelling. Just to highlight: scandal-mongering that generates clicks doesn’t necessarily get at the more prosaic and more complex truth of the story, and may end up doing a disservice. In the case of the Boundary Waters reversal, it is tempting to focus on the story of Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig and his Washington, D.C. tenants, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Was Luksic Craig’s purchase of the mansion where Jared and Ivanka now live an opening bid? Was the reversal connected to the rental?

This story of the rich and famous still merits investigating, but it carries with it a whole set of ideas — exaggerated and somewhat cartoonish ideas — of what corruption looks like: foreign billionaires, mansions, nepotism, winks and nods (remember what Luksic Craig said about meeting Trump at the Patriots’ game: “lo saludé.” “I said ‘hi’”).  All of those elements are certainly in play here, and they are part of what makes this administration appear so unabashedly corrupt and downright villainous.

At the same time, the story of Luksic Craig and his D.C. tenants could turn out to be a red herring, or what nowadays people call a nothingburger or fake news. Besides, there’s another, more immediately credible story that’s just there for the telling. What it lacks in tabloid glamour it makes up for with evidence. It unfolds among the banalities of meeting rooms, conference calls, memos, and after work events. This is the story Jimmy Tobias pursues in an excellent piece in the Pacific Standard, which I had not read before writing my post (and which, after reading, I linked to in a postscript).

Tobias beat me to the punch on the FOIA request, and obtained Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani’s calendar from May through December of 2017. He identifies two meetings about the Twin Metals project. The first is on June 14, 2017, with Raya Treiser and Andy Spielman of WilmerHale, the law and lobbying firm, on behalf of Antofagasta Plc.

Spielman is the Chair of WilmerHale’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Practice, and his name appears on the calendar heading, so we know that this is a high priority matter for the lobbying firm and presumably for the Department of Interior. And Treiser comes directly from the Department of the Interior, where she served under President Obama. She helped to “streamline” permitting on large infrastructure projects, and worked on the reform of offshore drilling regulations and energy development in Alaska. Now, as her biography on the WilmerHale site informs us, she has “successfully leveraged her substantive knowledge and insight into government processes.”

The second meeting is directly with Antofagasta Plc: the Chilean mining company comes to the Department of Interior to discuss its Minnesota claim, and it appears the Department rolls out the red carpet. WilmerHale had done its work. In addition to Principal Deputy Solicitor Jorjani, thirteen administration officials are in attendance, representing the highest reaches of the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. As Tobias notes, no conservation groups were invited to discuss the reversal with the Department of Interior. This was a conversation for insiders only.

At the center of this story is not a mansion, but a revolving door (and if you are not familiar with Bill Moyers’ short video essay on the subject, you should be). This feature of the story becomes even more apparent when we look at a couple of other meetings on Deputy Solicitor Jorjani’s calendar that Tobias didn’t flag but are connected with the Boundary Waters reversal. One is a Friday, May 26 call with Rachel Jacobson of WilmerHale, regarding a “DC Bar Event”; this call or this event might well have provided an opportunity to tee up the Twin Metals issue. It is the first contact WilmerHale makes with Principal Deputy Solicitor Jorjani— and who should they choose for that task but Jacobson, who held Jorjani’s job of Principal Deputy Solicitor under the Obama administration.

Then on Thursday, September 7th, when work on the reversal memo is presumably well underway, there is an internal meeting on Twin Metals: Jorjani with Jack Haugrud, who was Acting Secretary of the Interior until Zinke’s appointment, and Joshua Campbell, an Advisor to the Office of the Solicitor. Campbell is profiled here, on Western Values Project “Department of Influence” site, documenting the revolving door between special interests and the Department of Interior.

In these meetings, the public interest does not even come into play.

Postscript: Today, as I was writing this post, the Washington Post reported that the Forest Service will cancel a planned environmental impact study and instead conduct an abbreviated review of the Obama-era proposal to withdraw the Superior National Forest lands near the Boundary Waters from minerals exploration for up to 20 years. The story also appears in the Star Tribune. Things are moving fast now, and pressure is mounting.

Is Corruption at Interior Putting the Boundary Waters At Risk?


On the afternoon of Friday, December 22nd, with Congress in recess and most Americans already starting their holiday celebrations, the Department of the Interior issued a 19-page legal memorandum reversing hard-won, eleventh-hour Obama-era protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Signed by Interior’s Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, Memo M-37049 allows Twin Metals, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta Plc, to renew its leases of Superior National Forest lands where it proposes to mine copper, nickel, and other minerals for the next 100 years.

Even one year of mining would scar the land, destroy wetlands, wreck the forest and fill it with industrial noise, and pollute the water. And this kind of mining — sulfide mining — always risks major environmental catastrophe, long after a mine is closed and the land reclaimed. After a brief reprieve, the Twin Metals project is again threatening this unique public wilderness area, along with the thriving tourist and outdoor economy that has grown up around it.

The reversal was immediately met with allegations of corrupt dealing. In a statement calling the move by Interior “shameful,” Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton cried foul.

A December 22nd headline in the Wall Street Journal offered what appeared to be a straightforward explanation: cronyism. “Trump Administration to Grant Mining Leases That Will Benefit Landlord of President’s Daughter Ivanka Trump.” But Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig, whose family controls Antofagasta Plc, and who only after Trump’s election purchased the Washington, D.C. mansion Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner rent for $15,000 a month, claims never to have met his tenants, and says he met Donald Trump only once, at a New England Patriots game.

It’s unclear whether Luksic Craig’s denials can be taken at face value and whether they are enough to dispel the notion that the reversal was made directly to benefit Antofagasta or the Luksic family. What prompted the action? Who directed it? Who contributed to the memo, and who reviewed it? What conversations did Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Deputy Solicitor Jorjani, and other administrators have about the reversal, and with whom?

The public deserves clear answers to these questions, and last week, I submitted a FOIA request to the Solicitor’s Office at the Department of the Interior, to see if I might gain some insight into the process behind Memo M-37049. At the same time, it’s worth noting that these are not the only questions worth asking. Luksic Craig and his Washington, DC mansion may make good headlines, tabloid fodder, and Twitter snark, and there is no ignoring the whiff of impropriety about his real-estate dealings with the president’s daughter and son-in-law, who also happen to be senior White House advisors. But that’s not the whole story here. A scandal involving Luksic-Craig and his tenants, or some direct dirty dealing between Antofagasta and Interior, might eventually come to light, but the prospect of such a scandal might also serve to distract us from other, large-scale corruption that continues to put the Boundary Waters — and other public lands and waters — at serious risk.

Put the reversal in context. Consider, for example, the Executive Order, entitled “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals,” that was issued just two days before the Boundary Waters reversal, and which, like the Interior memo, sets the stage for exploitation of mineral resources on public lands. The EO appeared to be the policy outcome of a U.S. Geological Survey of the country’s critical minerals resources published on December 19th; but Trump’s December 20th order was years, not one day, in the making.

The EO revives Obama-era legislative battles over so-called strategic and critical minerals and declares victory by executive fiat. Back in 2013, pro-mining measures introduced in both the House (HR 761) and the Senate (S 1600) promised to “streamline” the permitting process for multinational companies mining on federal lands, like Superior National Forest. The Obama administration opposed them on the grounds that they would allow mining companies to circumvent environmental review. Proponents of HR 761 called it cutting red tape; the resolution actually tried to shut the public out of the process. It touted jobs, but, as critics pointed out, provided no real strategy for creating them; and it hawked anti-Chinese hysteria of the kind that candidate Trump regularly advanced. (Tellingly, House Republicans rejected a motion that would have barred export to China of strategic and critical minerals produced under the HR 761 permit, in tacit acknowledgment that China drives global demand for copper and nickel.) Coming just two days after this EO, the Boundary Waters reversal looks less like a one-off favor to a Chilean billionaire, and more like a coordinated move in a broader campaign.

This subversion of public process is not just the dirty dealing of a few bad actors. It’s also the consequence of weakened institutions; and institutional sabotage — or what Steve Bannon pretentiously called the deconstruction of the administrative state — is the precursor to large-scale corruption. Scott Pruitt might still be the poster boy for putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, but Ryan Zinke appears to be pursuing a similar brief at Interior. Though his bungling of the offshore drilling announcement made him appear incompetent, he is making big changes to favor big mining. The Secretary has made it one of his agency’s top ten priorities to “ensure access to mineral resources” and committed to minimizing “conservation objectives” that interfere with extractive industrial development. His plan to shrink Bears Ears followed a map drawn by a uranium mining company. At Grand Staircase-Escalante and Gold Butte National Monuments, Zinke has virtually surrendered vast swaths of public lands to extractive industry.

The Boundary Waters reversal, too, looks like the work of institutional saboteurs. It settles a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior by conceding that the government should not have discretion over public lands when commercial interests are at stake. Its author, Deputy Solicitor Jorjani, did a brief stint at Interior during George W. Bush’s second term, but it was his high profile job as Executive Director of the Koch Institute that distinguished him as the right man for Ryan Zinke’s Interior. As Polluter Watch, a project of Greenpeace, notes, Jorjani was the Koch Institute’s very first hire, and among the five most highly compensated employees at the Charles Koch Foundation. Now, along with Scott Cameron and Benjamin Keel, Daniel Jorjani works with the team at Interior charged with “reviewing rules their previous employers tried to weaken or kill,” according to reporting by the New York Times and Pro Publica. Similar deregulation teams, “connected to private sector groups that interacted with or were regulated by their current agencies,” were formed at all administrative agencies. The teams put public institutions at the service of powerful patrons, subordinating public protections to private interests.

This capture and sabotage of government agencies compounds and multiplies risk, removing public safeguards and compromising appointed guardians. In the case of the Boundary Waters, the risk of irreversible damage and environmental catastrophe would extend far beyond the mining location, because mining in Superior National Forest would also significantly intensify the cumulative effects of the recent boom in leasing, exploration, and drilling throughout the Lake Superior watershed.

All around the greatest of the Great Lakes, the industrial footprint of sulfide mining operations is expanding rapidly. Just to the southwest of the Boundary Waters, for example, Polymet, a company that has never operated a mine before, proposes building an open pit copper and nickel mine that will require water treatment and tailings dam maintenance “in perpetuity” — that means forever. Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt is dismantling federal rules requiring hardrock mining companies to take financial responsibility for cleanup.

State regulatory agencies are poorly equipped to oversee these new projects. They often fail to give the public a meaningful voice in permitting, or obtain the required prior consent from the region’s Indigenous nations. For their part, many state politicians are racing to deregulate, or at least accommodate, the mining companies. Just this past October, Wisconsin republicans repealed the state’s Prove it First law, which required copper, nickel and gold miners to prove that they could operate and close a sulfide mine without producing acid mine drainage. (They never proved it.) In Michigan, where Canadian mining companies are moving aggressively into the Upper Peninsula, State Senator Tom Casperson has just proposed giving mining companies and other representatives of industry “disproportionate clout” in the review of environmental rules.

Obviously this all goes way beyond doling out favors to billionaire friends or cronies at Mar-A-Lago, and it didn’t start when the Trumps came to town. Until it is called out, voted out, and rooted out, corruption at this scale – coordinated, institutionalized, systemic – will make a mockery of rule-making and oversight, and put our public lands, as well as our public life, at risk.

Postscript: This January 10th article by Jimmy Tobias in the Pacific Standard takes a careful look at Daniel Jorjani’s calendar, which was obtained through a records request, and identifies two meetings with representatives of the Twin Metals mining project: a June 14, 2017 meeting with Raya Treiser and Andy Spielman of WilmerHale on behalf of Twin Metals, and a July 25th meeting with Antofagasta Plc. I discuss these meetings in this follow up post.