WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar’s relationship with a Colorado man who worked for his family’s farm and who is under federal investigation for allegedly selling American wild horses to Mexican slaughter houses came under scrutiny this week.
Tommy D. Davis, a livestock hauler from La Jara and former independent contractor at the Salazar family farm in nearby Manassa, has been the largest single purchaser of wild horses from the federal government since 2009.
All but 36 of Davis’ 1,777 purchases coincide with Salazar’s tenure as Interior secretary, now in its fourth year.
Scott Coffina, a former White House ethics adviser, said Salazar’s involvement if any with the federal sale of wild horses to Davis would raise a red flag for investigators.
“Did he have knowledge of any sales to Davis at all? … Did the fact that he had a previous relationship with Davis affect the decision? … Did Davis get favorable terms or a better deal?” Coffina said in an interview.
When a government official was asked if Salazar signed off on sales to Davis, the official indicated he had not done so.
“Sale approval is done entirely at the level of the Bureau of Land Management wild-horse program — not the Department of the Interior,” the official wrote. The Bureau of Land Management is part of the Interior department, but the official’s statement suggests that BLM officials had no contact with officials in Secretary Salazar’s office.
Coffina said that unless new information about Salazar’s ties to Davis emerged, federal officials are unlikely to examine their relationship or request that Salazar recuse himself from the the Interior department’s internal investigation of Davis’ sales of the animals.
“The fact that he worked for him — Salazar said it was once or twice — I don’t think there’s any recusal required for that … I don’t see the relationship between Davis and Salazar is close enough in terms of benefit to Davis. It’s not clear how long ago he worked on the farm. Salazar has been in D.C. since 2004,” Coffina said, referring to Salazar’s election as a U.S. Senator.
Blake Androff, a Salazar spokesman, noted that the inspector general of the Interior department launched an investigation of Davis’ sales in June. “The Interior department takes the allegations against Mr. Davis very seriously,” he said, “and we look forward to the results of that inquiry. Anybody that is found to have violated the law should be held accountable.”
Davis did not respond to a voice mail left at his home. He told the online publication Pro Publica that “has done quite a bit of trucking” for Salazar, while Salazar’s brother LeRoy told The Observer last week that Davis worked as an independent contractor for the Salazar family farm once or twice.
Salazar said through a department spokesman he has “no recollection of Tom Davis and to his knowledge, has never had any business dealings with him.”
Although Salazar has not said he knew Davis, his relationship if any with his neighbor could emerge as a flashpoint for federal investigators. Coffina said if investigators present evidence that Davis sold the wild horses to slaughter houses, Salazar may need to recuse himself.