In this July 29th Fox 9 “Investigators” segment about sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, I make a brief appearance at around the 7:30 mark.
Read more about the Boundary Waters reversal here.
The story about the Boundary Waters reversal in the New York Times appears to be causing a stir. Hours after its online debut on Tuesday, the article had attracted hundreds of comments and was all over social media; yesterday, it appeared above the fold on the front page of the print edition. What struck me first about public reaction was that Times readers — a civic-minded and educated lot, on the whole — seem to have been unfamiliar with the basic elements of this story until now.
Most of the commenters’ heat appears to be focused on the Kalorama rental arrangement, which finds the daughter and son-in-law of the president renting a mansion from billionaire Chilean mining magnate Adronico Luksic Craig. It’s the most lurid part the story, and hints at some darker deal, or explicit quid pro quo: a mansion for a mine. I still think caution on that point is warranted.
Luksic was easily able to dismiss earlier reporting in Newsweek, HuffPo, and elsewhere on the rental, because it was based on the laziest form of reporting: writing up a (typically colorful) tweet by law professor and Bush administration ethics official Richard Painter about Luksic using “the Boundary Waters as his toilet”.
He stuck with this denial after the Times story appeared.
Luksic’s denial almost always turns on the issue whether he has ever “met” or “knows” the Trumps and Kushners. In the Times story, however, Luksic’s purchase of the Kalorama mansion is characterized in another way: as a soft opening bid, bringing Jared and Ivanka into an inappropriate, ethically compromised relationship from the moment they arrive in Washington. They are senior White House officials living under Luksic’s roof:
…several ethics experts said they would have cautioned Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump against renting the home, given the Luksic family’s business before the administration.
“There may be nothing wrong,” said Arthur Andrew Lopez, a federal government ethics official for two decades who is now a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “But it doesn’t look good.”
It doesn’t really make the arrangement look any better to say they “decided to lease the home before knowing the landlord’s identity,”as Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell tells the Times; and it’s worth noting that Mirijanian “did not directly respond to questions about whether they learned of that identity before signing the lease,” which would presumably have given Kushner and Trump an opportunity to review the matter with ethics officials. Besides, Rodrigo Terré, a Luksic agent, “said both sides were aware of each others’ identities before the rental deal was finalized. ‘We disclosed our name and the name of my boss,’ he said in a telephone interview.” That’s pretty unambiguous.
After asking out loud — again — whether there had been any formal ethics review of the leasing arrangement, I received this reply from one of the Times reporters:
There is additional new reporting here about the rental arrangement and other matters.
We learn, for example, that Charles and Seryl Kushner accompanied Jared and Ivanka on their tour of the Kalorama mansion. That family picture raises other questions, mainly about Charles Kushner’s longtime business associate George Gellert — who along with his son Andrew Gellert has extensive business connections in Chile. This angle seems worth exploring, especially since the White House nominated Andrew Gellert to be ambassador to Chile. (The nomination was quietly withdrawn, without explanation, in August of 2018. For more, see this post.)
Times reporting also appears to confirm that Antofagasta did, indeed, meet with the White House in May of 2017. The emails I had obtained through FOIA only hinted at the possibility of a meeting: “this same group [from Antofagasta] may also have a meeting at the White House,” wrote Interior’s Karen Hawbecker on April 28th.
A key meeting occurred in early May, when Antofagasta’s chief executive, along with other executives and lobbyists, discussed the issue with the White House’s top adviser on domestic energy and the environment, Michael Catanzaro. The company said it wanted to reverse the Obama-era decisions, which it said were illegal and inflicted “undue damage.”
That meeting now appears in an update to the Twin Metals at Interior timeline. As I’ve pointed out in another post, Catanzaro is especially close to the current Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt. While at the White House, Catanzaro had a regular weekly call with Bernhardt. The two oil and gas lobbyists often had lunch together as well. This would be yet more evidence, if more were required, that the Chilean mining conglomerate owned by the Luksic family had unbridled access to the highest reaches of the administration, and these public officials were working on the mining company’s behalf.
The message from an early meeting, according to an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity, was that officials should prepare for a change in direction.
Parse that carefully. It’s one of the most intriguing paragraphs of the entire story, and it calls into question the administration’s claim — which it is currently defending in the US District Court for the District of Columbia — that the Boundary Waters reversal was made merely to correct an error in Solicitor Tompkins’ 2016 M-Opinion.
Read more about the Boundary Waters reversal here.
Why did Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue abruptly cancel the planned two-year mineral withdrawal study in Superior National Forest? Why has he so far failed, or refused, to turn over findings from the first twenty months of that study, despite repeated requests from congressional leaders? If, as Perdue claims, the study “did not reveal new scientific information,” what’s there to hide?
The administrative record is being deliberately kept from us, it seems. Congress has yet to see the documents and analysis the Secretary of Agriculture is supposed to have consulted before issuing his decision to clear the way for copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters. The American public has no assurance that Perdue or the Trump administration “acted in good faith,” as the editors of the Star Tribune put it over the weekend, or even, I would add, in compliance with administrative law. As things stand, “disturbing questions remain about whether [an] industry-friendly outcome was driven by science or politics. If there’s nothing to hide, there should be no delays in providing this information to the public.”
At a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, April 9th, Representative Betty McCollum asked the Secretary of Agriculture to address some of those concerns. (The video is cued to the start of McCollum’s question time.)
Back in May of 2017, Secretary Perdue had reassured McCollum and an Interior subcommittee that he would “absolutely” allow the planned two-year study to go forward. But his words, McCollum says, have been “completely belied by [his] actions.”
You failed to live up to your words when you announced in September the abrupt cancellation of the mineral withdrawal study. Twenty months into a twenty-four month study review. Twenty months of collecting public input. Twenty months of science-based assessment. And all you released was a one-page press release. And that’s completely inadequate. We still have not seen any of the science behind the science-based decision. I have sent multiple letters, first in November and then again on March 1st, along with the Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, asking your agency to release the relevant documentation from the twenty-month review. Your own press release said the review included …”a mineral resource report, a biological and economic impact assessment, potential impacts to water resources, wilderness areas, and cultural resources.” Secretary Perdue, were all those reports completed as part of the environmental assessment?
Perdue: I can’t answer that question directly, Ma’am.
McCollum: So if you don’t have complete scientific reports to review before making your decision to cancel the withdrawal, one has to ask what your decision was based on. Do you have any idea what your decision was based on, sir?
Perdue says he does have an idea, but in the exchange that follows, he manages only a jumbled statement.
When I learned that Minnesota really has the last vote on this as a state government, and where the governor had determined already that he was not going to allow this to go forward, it made no sense to me to proceed to — certainly, there’s been not one permit issued, there will not be one permit issued until it’s a complete environmental impact statement and study, based on that, and it looked to me it would be duplicative after I realized that, after my statement to you in May of 17 at my first hearing, and therefore the state of Minnesota has the last vote on this, and I would expect them to do what the citizens of Minnesota would decide.
If I may venture a paraphrase: the Secretary of Agriculture cancelled the scientific study of mineral withdrawal, because — try to follow the reasoning here — once Superior National Forest is no longer subject to withdrawal, and the permitting process for new mining can get underway in earnest, there will be environmental impact assessments done. Those assessments will involve science, or “study.” Why finish the two-year study to determine whether any mining should be done at all, when we’re just going to do more scientific study later, in order to issue mining permits? And since the governor and the people of Minnesota seem to be against the whole thing anyway, science is irrelevant.
This is arrant nonsense, and shows an utter disregard for administrative procedure and a lack of preparation that borders on contempt of Congress. Still, it might help settle the question whether Perdue’s decision was driven by “science or politics.” Secretary Perdue seems not even to understand the role scientific study plays in the Forest Service’s disposition of public lands, or he just doesn’t care. Consider his attitude toward scientific study in the press release he issued back in September of 2018. There, Perdue boasted that by cancelling the two-year study he had removed a “major obstacle,” a “roadblock,” to mineral leasing on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Now, “interested companies may seek to lease minerals in the watershed.”
McCollum was not satisfied with any of this — why should she be? — and she reminded Perdue that his actions have already had serious consequences.
Well, sir, I respectfully disagree with your analysis of this. Once the Forest Service didn’t go forward on the study, BLM started moving forward on lease renewal. Once the study wasn’t completed and I asked for all the information on it, taxpayers paid for it, I have not received it. So sir, I feel that the Forest Service did not fulfill its congressional obligation by moving forward with the full two-year study, and the watershed that the Boundary Waters is in, all water’s precious, but it makes no sense to me at all that the Forest Service abandoned its due diligence research… Your stopping the study started a rollercoaster of events that will lead, possibly, to the destruction of these pristine waters.
McCollum has once again raised the alarm. Where are the whistleblowers?
Read more posts about the Boundary Waters reversal here.
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.
Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA would cut short a Forest Service environmental study of the risks posed by sulfide mining in Superior National Forest, near the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. The study, which was launched only at the very end of 2016, “did not reveal new scientific information,” Perdue asserted. Those familiar with Perdue’s efforts to slash funding for research at USDA will not be surprised that the Secretary appeared, on this occasion, to demonstrate little regard for science and the time it takes to do good science.
Perdue offered vague reassurances that we can “protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities.” After all, the statement goes on to say, northern Minnesota “has been mined for decades and is known as the ‘Iron Range’ due to its numerous iron mines.” That’s certainly true, and it will probably play to the pride people on the Iron Range take in their heritage; but Perdue never once mentions the kind of mining that is now under consideration — copper and nickel mining, or sulfide mining — and the enormous risks sulfide mining always presents. In fact, his statement does everything possible to sidestep the issue and conflate iron and non-ferrous mining.
The announcement was misleading, and it was all but lost amid the very loud noise created by the Anonymous Op Ed that had come out in the New York Times the day before. It is, however, consequential. Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio rightly characterized Perdue’s announcement as “the Trump administration’s second major reversal of decisions made on mining in the Superior National Forest” — the first being the December 2017 legal memorandum on the renewal of Antofagasta’s mineral leases in Superior National Forest discussed in previous posts.
The two reversals are obviously connected and coordinated. Exactly how might be a little harder to say. We can start to trace their connection as early as 22 August 2017, when Department of Interior Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani holds a meeting with two White House officials. The topic: “Minnesota Project.” Here is the calendar entry for that meeting, which I’ve now added to the Twin Metals timeline:
The apparent purpose of this meeting was to bring the White House, specifically the Office of the General Counsel and the Executive Office of the President, into the loop, or to provide the White House with an update on efforts to reverse this policy of the Obama administration.
The meeting included Michael J. Catanzaro, who was at the time Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Energy and Environmental Policy. He is profiled on DeSmog. His lobbying for oil and gas companies and his work with Senator Jim “Snowball” Inhofe and climate change denial campaigns are detailed there. Catanzaro stepped through DC’s revolving door and returned to his lobbying firm (CGCN Group) in April of this year.
The other White House official in that meeting was Stephen Vaden, who in August of 2017 was serving as Principal Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vaden had also been a member of the Trump “beachhead team” at USDA. These teams were sent in to sabotage regulatory agencies and, as Steve Bannon put it, deconstruct the administrative state.
One month after this meeting, in September of 2017, Vaden would be officially nominated to become General Counsel at USDA. Legal staff at USDA did not exactly greet the nomination with enthusiasm. According to Politico, morale “plummeted.” There were concerns about Vaden’s lack of managerial experience, his hostility to unions, and his previous work for the Judicial Education Project on behalf of discriminatory Voter ID laws — which turned out to be the main focus of his 2017 nomination hearing. Vaden is still awaiting full confirmation in the Senate, but he is busy working at USDA and would no doubt have briefed Secretary Perdue on this matter.
So the meeting where these two Boundary Waters reversals connect comes a little more clearly into focus: Jorjani, with his strong ties to the Koch Institute, Catanzaro, an energy lobbyist hostile to science, and Vaden, with sketchy views on labor unions and voting rights, talking about a Chilean conglomerate’s mining leases in Superior National Forest.
In 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.
Earlier this week, in Duluth, Minnesota, Donald Trump stated that the reversal of Obama-era protections for the Boundary Waters promised great things “for our amazing people and miners and workers and for the people of Minnesota.” Bizarrely, the president went so far as to claim that mining the Duluth Complex would “make it from an environmental standpoint better,” though it’s impossible to say what exactly “it” might refer to here.
He framed these remarks as an announcement, but it’s also difficult to say what, exactly, he was so “proudly announcing.” Those like Daniel Dale who track the president’s speeches have noticed that he tends to present as new and exciting events and initiatives that are long past, or which in fact have failed or run into trouble. This is especially true when it comes to the president’s statements about blue collar jobs, factories, and the economy.
The timeline clearly shows that the Department of Interior started taking meetings with lobbyists and representatives of Antofagasta Plc and Twin Metals in April of 2017, worked closely and steadily with them through the summer and fall, and issued a legal memo favorable to the mining companies in December of that year. Secretary Zinke’s latest action — the reinstatement of Antofagasta’s mining leases in Superior National Forest on May 2, 2018 — was over a year in the making. Almost all of this work was done behind the scenes, without meaningful public participation. Announcements would only have drawn unwelcome attention.
In Duluth, the announcement of “first steps” that were in fact already taken might have been made to pre-empt or drown out the real news of this week: the filing of a Complaint in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by a group of ten Minnesota plaintiffs against the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, Secretary Ryan Zinke, and BLM’s Brian Steed. The Complaint charges that the reinstatement of Antofagasta Plc’s mining leases in Superior National Forest “exceeds their authority under law and is arbitrary and capricious” and asks the Court “to enjoin them from further consideration of applications to renew the two leases.”
Filed yesterday, just hours after Trump’s Duluth rally, this Complaint is actual news. It will not get one tenth of the coverage Trump’s bluster receives.
There’s little if anything that’s new and even less of substance here. I include the video because it’s helpful to consider where Trump is clearly reading from prepared remarks (which might indicate some actual administrative policy step) and where he is simply wandering off on his own into vague promises of some “better” future. He did the latter for most of the minute he spent on the subject of Superior National Forest, veering off, at the end, into incoherence.
Here is my transcript of his remarks on the topic:
Under the previous administration, America’s rich natural resources, of which your state has a lot, were put under lock and key, including thousands of acres in Superior National Forest. You know what that is, right? Tonight I’m proudly announcing that we will soon be taking the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration for our amazing people and miners and workers and for the people of Minnesota, one of the great natural reserves of the world. And we’ll do it carefully, and maybe, if it doesn’t pass muster, we won’t do it at all, but it is going to happen I will tell you that. It’s gonna happen. And it’s happening fast. We’ve already taken it as you know a long way down the road. And it’s gonna make things better. It’s gonna make it from an environmental standpoint better.
Here, as far as I can tell, is the substance of his prepared remarks.
Under the previous administration, America’s rich natural resources were put under lock and key, including thousands of acres in Superior National Forest. We [have taken] the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration [in] one of the great natural reserves of the world.
The opening jab at Obama, who locked away riches that are rightfully ours, also makes a mockery of the very idea of conservation and environmental protection. But who’s really paying attention? The audience cheers at the mention of Superior National Forest: “you know what that is, right?” Trump clearly does not, but he tries to milk the cheer anyway; it’s a variation on the tired old comedian’s schtick: who here is from Jersey? Anybody? New Jersey!
Superior National Forest is seen here entirely through the lens of extractive industry: a “natural reserve,” a store of minerals. Just as importantly, the statement makes no mention of the risky mining that this will involve — sulfide mining, a kind of mining the amazing people of the Iron Range have never done before, and which has the potential to destroy the very things people in Minnesota prize about Superior National Forest and the nearby Boundary Waters area.
Marshall Helmberger sums it up in a must read article on the new Complaint in The Timberjay :
Former Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, in December 2016, issued detailed findings of fact concluding it was likely that acid mine drainage from the Twin Metals mine would contaminate the BWCAW and cause adverse effects on the water quality, fish populations, aquatic ecosystems, and animal species. Tidwell further considered the possibility of containment, mitigation and remediation efforts and found that very few would be compatible with maintaining the BWCAW’s wilderness character.
While it appears that the president’s prepared remarks also included some vague gesture toward environmental responsibility, Trump turns that bit into a meaningless jumble, saying at first that the mineral exploration of the Duluth Complex will only go forward if it passes muster, then assuring the audience that “it is going to happen…It’s gonna happen,” and when it does happen, “it” is going to make “it” better. “It” here can mean anything, or nothing at all: he’s not offering the crowd anything beyond the word “better,” which is pretty much all they came out to hear anyway.
This morning, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared before the House Appropriations Committee at a hearing on the FY 2019 Budget. The video below marks the moment when Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum questioned Secretary Zinke on the Boundary Waters reversal.
It begins with an exchange on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, in the course of which Zinke says reporting in the New York Times based on U.S. Department of Interior memos is not “credible.” Fake news.
McCollum then moves the discussion to the Boundary Waters reversal. Her main question, which she asks in a few different ways, is whether Deputy Solicitor Jorjani met with any stakeholders other than lobbyists for Twin Metals Minnesota before issuing his reversal memo.
Zinke’s response that this is all part of the public record is at best disingenuous, given that nearly all the information we have to date about the reversal is the result of FOIA requests; and it’s also Trumpian in its post-truthiness, since Zinke just declared a few moments earlier that reporting based on Department of Interior records is not to be trusted.
At any rate, here is the full exchange:
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.
|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. (For more on Waxman’s letter, see this post.)|
|September 12, 2016||Antofagasta subsidiaries Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals file a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, asserting the non-discretionary “right to successive renewals” of mineral leases in Superior National Forest.|
|December 14, 2016||US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issues a decision that the Forest Service will not consent to renewal of the Twin Metals mineral leases in Superior National Forest.|
|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.|
|January 20, 2017||Reince Priebus issues the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.|
|February 2, 2017||Kristin Ball, Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management, prepares an Information/Briefing Memorandum for Katherine MacGregor, Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management. Subject: Application for Withdrawal, Superior National Forest, Minnesota|
|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 file a Supplemental and Amended Complaint against the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Agriculture, and US Forest Service charging that the Solicitor’s M-Opinion, the Forest Service’s denial of consent, and the BLM’s denial of renewal were arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law, and inflict “far-reaching” harms.|
|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 on 28 February 2019. [update, 5 March 2019: it appears to have expired. For this aspect of the story, see this post.]|
|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 10, 2017||On the calendar of Michael Nedd, Acting Director of BLM: “Mining in Minnesota.” Also on the calendar of Daniel Jorjani. Other attendees: Joshua Hanson, Briana Collier, Yolando Mack-Thompson, Karen Mouritsen, Alfred Elser, Ruthie Jefferson, Timothy Spisak, Marshall Critchfield, Linda Thurn, Lonny Bagley, Jerome Perez, BLM-WO MIB RM5653 Conference Room, Jeff Brune, Mitchell Leverette, Downey Magallanes, Aaron Moody, Shannon Stewart, Karen Hawbecker, Kathleen Benedetto|
|April 17, 2017||Antofagasta Plc CEO Ivan Arriagada sends a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke. “Due to decisions made in the last days of the Obama adminitration,” he writes, “our past and future investment” — which he values at $400 million — “now hangs in the balance.” He hopes “to discuss a viable path forward” with Zinke, and requests an in-person meeting in Washington, DC, on either May 2nd or 3rd. “Rob Lehman at Wilmer Hale will be handling the scheduling of my meetings.”|
|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 20, 2017||“April XX” draft of Information Memorandum for Secretary Ryan Zinke, outlining “”a set of options for reversing” BLM’s decision on Twin Metals, prepared by the Office of the Solicitor. (On the “XX” in the date of this draft, see this post.)|
|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 25, 2017||Kathleen Benedetto forwards a briefing memo [scroll down to page 182] on Twin Metals for Secretary Ryan Zinke’s 26 April meeting with Representatives Tom Emmer and Richard Nolan.|
|April 26, 2017||On the calendar of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: meeting with Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN, 6th District) and Landon Zinda, legislative council; Representative Rick Nolan (DFL-MN, 6th District) and Will Mitchell, Legislative Director. A briefing by Kathy Benedetto and Kate MacGregor of the Department of Interior on the Twin Metals Leases.|
|April 26, 2017||Briana Collier, an attorney in the Division of Mineral Resources, forwards a briefing paper prepared for the State Department “ahead of an upcoming meeting this week between Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile,” Carol Z. Perez.|
|April 27, 2017||Raya Treiser of WilmerHale emails Catherine Gulac at the Department of Interior confirming a May 2nd meeting between Deputy Secretary James Cason and Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada. The email includes “background materials”: a March 22, 2017 letter from WilmerHale’s Rob Lehman to Ryan Zinke; a July 1, 2016 letter from WilmerHale’s Seth Waxman to former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel; and the July 1, 2016 Waxman letter to Solicitor Tompkins.|
|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.”*
*Update: reporting in the New York Times confirms that the group from Antofagasta met with Michael Catanzaro, who was then top advisor on energy and environment at the Trump 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 10, 2017||On the calendar of Sonny Perdue: phone call with Senator Al Franken to “fill him in on a mineral leasing issue in the Boundary Waters.”|
|May 17, 2017||Richard McNeer of the Solicitor’s office forwards to Jack Haugrud “a draft outline of an explanation for reversal of the M-Opinion” prepared by attorney Briana Collier.|
|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 13, 2017||On the calendar of Daniel Jorjani: “Lease cancellation meeting.”|
|June 14, 2017||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 and on the calendar of Michael Nedd, Acting Director of BLM.|
|June 19, 2017||Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani forwards a press release to Jack Haugrud: “Reps. Gosar, Emmer, Nolan and Westerman Urge Rescission of 234,328-acre Mineral Withdrawal and Renewal of Leases in Minnesota.” Haugrud sends the item to Karen Hawbecker, with the note: “FYI, in case you have not already seen it.”|
|June 20, 2017||On the calendar of Michael Nedd: Follow Up on Twin Metals Superior National Forest|
|July 10, 2017||On the calendar of Ryan Zinke: “Minnesota Briefing.” Later that day, Zinke meets with Dayton. According to journalist Rachel Stassen-Berger , a spokesperson for Governor Mark Dayton says he and Zinke “discussed the Twin Metals project, and the Secretary expressed his support for the environmental review process established by the National Environmental Protection [sic: read, Policy] Act (NEPA)”|
|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 (Office of General Counsel, Department of Agriculture).|
|August 24, 2017||Department of Interior hosts CEO Critical Minerals Roundtable|
|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 3, 2017||On the calendar or “daily cards” of David Bernhardt: call with Congressman Tom Emmer. “Rep to call Gareth [Rees.].”|
|October 4, 2017||On the calendar of Gareth Rees: Office of the Solicitor meeting on Twin Metals.|
|October 3, 2017||Senator Amy Klobuchar attends a “bipartisan” dinner at the Kalorama mansion, ostensibly to discuss criminal justice reform.|
|October 4, 2017||Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt briefed on Twin Metals. (Gareth Rees will have lunch with Bernhardt two days later, on October 6.)|
|October 12, 2017||Office of the Solicitor meets with Twin Metals Minnesota: mentioned in an October 27, 2017 email from Briana Collier to Karen Hawbecker and Richard McNeer of the Office of the Solicitor. Jack Haugrud sets the working schedule for producing a “Twin Metals M-Opinion Reversal Draft” for “4-6 weeks from when we met with Twin Metals on October 12th.”|
|November 7, 2017||Briana Collier forwards the Twin Metals leases to political appointee Gary Lawkowski, Counselor to Daniel Jorjani.|
|November 17, 2017||Briana Collier is “working away on editing the Twin Metals opinion according to [Jack Haugrud’s] directions.”|
|November 18, 2017||Jack Haugrud to Briana Collier: “I didn’t realize until last night that Gary [Lawkowski] was working on his own draft” of the reversal. Haugrud sets out to reconcile this draft by a political appointee with the draft produced by Briana Collier.|
|November 27, 2017||Jack Haugrud emails attorneys at the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of DOJ a draft of the “M-Opinion that would reverse M-37036 and conclude that Twin Metals does have a non-discretionary right to a third renewal.” He asks for comments that week, as Acting Solicitor Daniel Jorjani “would like to issue the M-Opinion this week.”|
|December 13, 2017||Bob McFarlin, Government Affairs Advisor for Twin Metals Minnesota, writes to “Kathy” [Kathleen Benedetto, BLM]: he is coming to DC for a “quick meeting USFS Chief Tooke and would love to touch base. [Tony Tooke had succeeded Tom Tidwell on September 1, 2017.] I will be traveling with Twin Metals’ VP of Environment and Sustainability, Anne Williamson, who you met in Minnesota this past summer.” He asks that Mitch Leverette, Eastern States Acting Director, Bureau of Land Management, join them. After some back and forth, it’s decided DMR [=Division of Mineral Resources?] should represent the Office of the Solicitor at the meeting.|
|December 15, 2017||Bob McFarlin meets with Kathleen Benedetto: “The litigation is not expected to be the topic of conversation,” according to an email from Justin Katusak.|
|December 20, 2017||At the request of Interior Communications, Gary Lawkowski, Counselor to the Solicitor of the Interior, forwards a “one-pager of talking points on the Twin Metals opinion” to Daniel Jorjani and Jack Haugrud for review. He has put them together “given [or with an eye to] today’s focus on critical minerals.” In a second email circulating the talking points to Deputy Director of Communications Russell Newell, he elaborates: “One thing you all may want to note — the Forest Service has indicated that they believe there are potentially cobalt and platinum deposits underneath Superior National Forest.”|
|December 21, 2017||Email from Russell Newell: Plans for the Minnesota-only news release requested by BLM on the forthcoming opinion are cancelled, and the Department will comment “if asked.”|
|December 21, 2017||Some final revisions to the M-Opinion draft: difficulties finding the correct Weeks Act citation for the paragraph about Statutory Authority (on p. 2 of the issued opinion); reworking of footnotes for the section on lease renewals (pp. 11-13) arguing that BLM renewed the leases in 1989 and 2004 under the 1966 terms. One footnote in particular — number 65 in this near-final draft — “raises issues we do not want to address.”|
|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.”
3:44PM Upon hearing that Governor Dayton issued a statement calling the reversal “shameful,” David Bernhardt sends a mocking email to Daniel Jorjani: “He should call Ken Salazar.”
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.
Read more about the Boundary Waters reversal here.