FERNANDINA BEACH, FL (November 1, 2018) – In the wake of an ethics charge against US Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke now referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges, The Elephant Project is calling for the immediate release of critical documents it requested 6 months ago but the Interior Department has yet to produce.

“With the recent escalation of at least one ethics charge against Secretary Zinke, as reported widely by the news media, we are concerned that he and his staff may be intentionally pushing the limits of the law in complying with our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request,” The Elephant Project Founder and President Dane Waters said. “This new development reinforces my concern that Secretary Zinke has a clear pattern of covering up personal conflicts of interest between his big-game hunting friends and his job in the Trump Administration.

“Interior Secretary Zinke has a long history of hunting big game with his high net worth buddies, including President Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump,” Waters said. “We are deeply concerned he could be using the Department and its International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) to support his own well-known interest in killing wildlife for sport with his friends.”

William Kristol, board member of The Elephant Project and Editor of The Weekly Standard  said, “Transparency is a cornerstone of democracy. Every minute that Secretary Zinke goes unchecked and unquestioned in his systematic deconstruction of the Interior Department is another minute the Trump Administration chips away at that cornerstone. The Administration is clearly more interested in kowtowing to the big game trophy-hunting lobby than it is in addressing threatened wildlife species and US national interests.”

Joe Trippi, board member of The Elephant Project and a top Democratic strategist, said, “The Interior Department is dragging its feet in producing the documents that we have a legal right to review, because they continue to act with impunity. This most recent escalation of an ethics charge against Secretary Zinke to the Justice Department shows that someone is finally taking these charges seriously. We are confident that the documents we have requested will show the involvement by President Trump and members of his family, including his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, in the selection of members of the IWCC and the reversal of the Fish and Wildlife Service policy on the importation of elephant trophies.”

The Elephant Project filed a FOIA request in March for all documents relating to the establishment of the IWCC, an official advisory group announced almost a year ago on November 8, 2017. The Council was created in conjunction with the reversal of the importation of elephant trophies policy outlined in a March 1, 2018 memorandum from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The duty of this newly created board is to develop “a plan for public engagement and education on the benefits of international hunting.” In other words, despite its name, the IWCC is designed to promote the killing of elephants under the guise of conservation.

The group’s formation documents require the board to include hunters with international hunting experience, and senior-level representatives from companies in international hunting tourism and the firearms trade. Yet no such requirement exists for members to have wildlife conservation backgrounds. In addition, the IWCC counts among its members a co-owner of a hunting preserve with Donald Trump Jr.