In yet another reminder of how the Trump administration’s interests seem to align with those of the gun industry, a recent report revealed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke holds shares in a private firearms manufacturing company in Montana – and he did not disclose those holdings when President Donald Trump nominated him for the position.
Interestingly, the company has also received at least one federal contract in the last year.
As the HuffPost reported, Zinke owns 1,000 shares out of nearly 57 million in PROOF Research Inc., which was established in 2011 in the secretary’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, as Extreme Precision Armaments Inc. before changing its name and moving to Columbia Falls, where it apparently produces “the world’s finest composite barrels, stocks, and complete rifles.”
None of this was mentioned in the disclosure Zinke submitted to the Office of Government Ethics almost a year ago. In addition to that, while both parties have confirmed the holdings, the exact monetary value of those shares remains unclear.
Since it is mandatory for cabinet nominees to reveal assets worth $1,000 or more on their disclosure reports, Zinke’s office is claiming each of those shares is worth $0.25 only – which would make it “far below the reporting thresholds for the executive branch.”
“The Secretary is committed to the highest ethical standards and his first meeting as secretary was with the Department’s senior ethics officers,” Interior Department spokesperson Heather Swift told the publication. “The last two purchases of the shares were at valuations of 25 cents per share and 40 cents per share, which would put their fair market valuation between $250 and $400.”
Now, Zinke might only own a fraction of the gun company and it could actually be worth less than what he was supposed to disclose, it’s his close relationship with the firearms industry that has raised serious concerns – given the fact the Department of Defense awarded PROOF Research $11.4 million “to develop advanced hybrid-composite muzzle brakes and medium-caliber barrels for future weapon systems” last year.
In 2012, Zinke also reportedly provided consulting services for the company. Therefore, it is not absurd to question if the secretary’s ties to the gun manufacturer would influence his decisions. Moreover, as the HuffPost pointed out, the secretary and his senior aides met with the gun company’s executives and a lobbyist in April 2017, according to an entry in Zinke’s work calendar titled, “Brief Update of Proof Research.”
PROOF Research Inc. CEO Larry Murphy said the meeting was held to “discuss matters of interest to the company” as part of its routine practice. He said “we don’t generally comment on the substance of those discussions.” However, he later explained the company met with Zinke because of their “Montana connection” and to find out “whether the Secretary knew of any needs in the government for the company’s products.”
Needless to say, this is all very troubling.
“Zinke is required to report assets such as private company stocks with a fair market value of over $1,000,” Virginia Canter, executive branch ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the HuffPost. “And the fact that he met with company executives is troubling since by law he’s required to recuse himself from participating in particular matters that would directly and predictably affect the company.”
Zinke’s relationship with the gun industry goes way back.
According to The Montana Post, Zinke and two of his friends started the Montana Firearms Institute – a nonprofit pro-gun advocacy group – in 2011. From 2012 to the time he was tapped for a position in the Trump administration, the former state senator served as a director of the institute.
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