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Interior Solicitor

If confirmed, Ryan Nelson will serve as the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior. “As Solicitor, Nelson will be the chief attorney for the United States Department of the Interior, principal legal adviser to the Secretary of the Interior, and will oversee 400 employees, including 300 attorneys. He will be assisted by several Deputy Solicitors, Associate Solicitors, and eight Regional Solicitors.”

A native of Idaho Falls, Idaho and a Brigham Young University Law School graduate, Ryan Nelson is a George W. Bush administration veteran and has worked most recently for Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot. Nelson began his legal career working as an associate at Sidley Austin LLP, and from there he went to serve in the Bush administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, where he argued “against environmental or citizens’ groups… seeking to block government actions.” Nelson also served in the Bush administration as deputy general counsel for the White House Office of Management and Budget. For a few months in 2009, Nelson worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee where he was part of the “Republicans’ core nominations team” working on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. For the past eight years, Nelson has worked as general counsel to “controversial” “health care products company” Melaleuca. In addition to representing the company in corporate litigation cases, Nelson represented CEO Frank VanderSloot, working to “bully and silence” those who have pointed out that VanderSloot funds a “‘number of anti-gay causes'” and those who have criticized Melaleuca’s “‘shady business model.'”

Sources: [Department of the Interior, Press Release, 08/01/17, Chase Peterson-Withorn, “How Frank VanderSloot, Wellness Billionaire And GOP Kingmaker, Became Idaho’s Richest Person,” Forbes, 06/21/17, Michael Doyle, “‘Aggressive’ solicitor pick brings broad legal experience,” Greenwire, 08/01/17, Legistorm Profile for Ryan D. Nelson, accessed 08/02/17, “Senate Judiciary Republicans Staffing up for Sotomayor, Legal Times, 06/05/09, Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17, Glen Greenwald, “Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics,” Salon, 02/17/12, Kimberlee Kruesi, “VanderSloot’s Mother Jones suit tossed: Judge dismisses conservative Idaho activist’s lawsuit against liberal magazine,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 10/08/15, and Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17]

Background Information

Previous Employers

Sidley Austin 

Environmental and Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice

Office of Management and Budget

Senate Judiciary Committee

Melaleuca

Additional Background on Employers of Note:  

Ryan Nelson, as deputy assistant attorney general for the Bush administration, argued “against environmental or citizens’ groups… seeking to block government actions.”

As deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Ryan Nelson “was listed as an attorney in two appellate cases in the 9th Circuit during his time in the Bush administration, in each case arguing against environmental or citizens’ groups who were seeking to block government actions.”

[Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17]

Ryan Nelson called the DOJ’s $2 million civil settlement with the Jupiter Aluminum Corporation that spared the aluminum manufacturer “nearly $50 million” in pollution fines for “exceeding limits” of air pollution of “potential human carcinogens and other toxic chemicals” an “‘example of… good'” government cooperation.

As deputy assistant attorney general, Ryan Nelson announced the Department of Justice settled with the Jupiter Aluminum Corporation for “exceeding limits on air releases of potential human carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.” Jupiter Aluminum, which agreed to “pay a civil penalty of $2 million” and “take steps to ensure future compliance with certain provisions of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA),” was spared “nearly $50 million in fines.” Nelson called it “‘an example of the good that can come from the cooperation of federal, state and local government.'”

[U.S. Department of Justice, Press Release, 08/13/07, Steve Zabrowski, “Jupiter Aluminum plant in Hammond to settle in Clean Air Act complaint,” Times of Northwest Indiana, 08/11/07, and Steve Zabrowski, “Hammond’s Jupiter Aluminum agrees to $2 million civil penalty,” Times of Northwest Indiana, 08/15/07]

Ryan Nelson, as deputy assistant attorney general, represented the Bush administration against a citizens’ group who sued to stop an Alaskan mine from filling “in wetlands with mine tailings,” claiming “less destructive alternatives hadn’t been explored.”

As deputy assistant attorney general, Ryan Nelson represented the Bush administration in a 9th Circuit Court case, “arguing against” a citizens’ group “seeking to block” the Army Corps of Engineers for permitting the Rock Creek Mining Project, near Nome, Alaska. After the Army Corp of Engineers permitted the mine to fill in wetlands with mine tailings, the citizens group claimed “less destructive alternatives hadn’t been explored.”

[Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17]

Ryan Nelson, as deputy assistant attorney general, represented the Bush administration against an environmental group that “argued that yellowfin tuna caught by South and Central American fisherman using seine nets shouldn’t be permitted to use a ‘dolphin-safe’ label.” The court ruled against Nelson, and found the labeling was inappropriate.

The court ultimately blocked the Department of Commerce’s finding that such labeling was appropriate.”

[Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17]

Ryan Nelson has worked as general counsel for “controversial” “health care products company” Melaleuca. 

Melaleuca is a “‘controversial billion-dollar-a-year company'” that has been described as a “‘pyramid selling organization, built along the lines of Herbalife and Amway.'” Melaleuca’s “get-rich pitches” have gotten the company into hot water with state regulators, and additionally the Food and Drug Administration has “accused Melaleuca of deceiving consumers about some of its supplements.”

[Michael Doyle, “‘Aggressive’ solicitor pick brings broad legal experience,” Greenwire, 08/01/17, Kimberlee Kruesi, “VanderSloot’s Mother Jones suit tossed: Judge dismisses conservative Idaho activist’s lawsuit against liberal magazine,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 10/08/15, and Glen Greenwald, “Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics,” Salon, 02/17/12] 

Someone who identifies themselves as a 16-year Melaleuca Inc. employee left a comment on the Federal Trade Commission’s website that Melaleuca was “one of the most obvious Pyramid Schemes on the planet” and that “the evidence of coruption [sic] and/ or scheming should be abundantly clear to all regulators seeking consumer protection.”

[“Comment,” Federal Trade Commission, 11/05/15]

Frank VanderSloot has used “his team of subservient lawyers” to “bully and silence” journalists. Ryan Nelson has sent threatening emails to journalists who have criticized Melaleuca’s business model and have accused VanderSloot and Melaleuca of being “‘Not-So-Gay-Friendly.'”

Critics have observed that “Frank VanderSloot and his team of subservient lawyers… are abusing the law and their own resources to threaten, bully and silence vulnerable people from engaging in perfectly legitimate political speech.”

[Glen Greenwald, “Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics,” Salon, 02/17/12]

In February 2012, Ryan Nelson sent a stern email to Elliot Suthers of Forbes magazine after Suthers had written a piece in which he referenced Melaleuca’s “‘somewhat shady business model,’ and also referenced the ‘number of anti-gay causes’ which VanderSloot ha[d] funded.'” Nelson accused Suthers “of making ‘defamatory statements'” and told Suthers: “‘We expect immediate action here and no more stonewalling from you.'”

[Glen Greenwald, “Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics,” Salon, 02/17/12]

Also in February 2012, a website called the Idaho Agenda that “cover[ed] issues of interest to the state’s LGBT community” published a piece called that accused Melaleuca of being a “‘Not-So-Gay-Friendly'” company. The author of the piece “received an accusatory letter from a Melaleuca lawyer, Associate Counsel Michael LaClare…. [and] spoke to friends to decide what to do, but before he could respond, he received a follow-up missive by email from a different company lawyer, General Counsel Ryan Nelson, demanding compliance.” The author of the article emailed back to say that “he was working on a response” but Nelson threatened him, saying, “‘We really need to address this issue today or else we will have to consider escalating this issue to a much more serious level.'”

[Glen Greenwald, “Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics,” Salon, 02/17/12]

Ryan Nelson also represented Frank VanderSloot when VanderSloot sued Mother Jones magazine for defamation after Mother Jones wrote an article accusing VanderSloot of outing a reporter as gay; the case was dismissed.

In 2005, “when the Idaho Falls Post Register published a series of articles detailing pedophilia at a local Boy Scout camp… Melaleuca took out ads in the paper criticizing the article and repeating speculation that, among other issues, its homosexual author may have had ‘a personal axe to grind’ due to the Scouts’ then-policy of not allowing gay scout leaders.”

[Chase Peterson-Withorn, “How Frank VanderSloot, Wellness Billionaire And GOP Kingmaker, Became Idaho’s Richest Person,” Forbes, 06/21/17, and Stephanie Mencimer, “Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 Million for Mitt Romney,” Mother Jones, 02/06/12]

In 2012, Mother Jones published an article claiming that CEO of Melaleuca Frank VanderSloot, “in his letters to the local paper, publicly outed a reporter as gay. VanderSloot sued for defamation in Idaho court. The judge, while criticizing Mother Jones’ reporting, dismissed the claims as protected speech and threw out the case in October 2015.”

[Chase Peterson-Withorn, “How Frank VanderSloot, Wellness Billionaire And GOP Kingmaker, Became Idaho’s Richest Person,” Forbes, 06/21/17]

Ryan Nelson represented VanderSloot in the suit. Mother Jones’ attorney described Nelson as being “‘on the aggressive end of the spectrum.'”

[Michael Doyle, “‘Aggressive’ solicitor pick brings broad legal experience,” Greenwire, 08/01/17, and Bryan Clark, “Melaleuca attorney tapped for DOI solicitor,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 08/01/17]

In September 2016, Donald Trump Jr. had a “closed-door meeting at Melaleuca Global Headquarters” where he visited with Frank VanderSloot and the company’s management team. 

[Nate Eaton, “Trump Jr. Visits Idaho Falls for Private Meeting at Melaleuca,” East Idaho News, 09/21/16]

Political Connections

Political connections:

Ryan Nelson has donated at least $3,900 to conservative politicians, including: $400 to Mike Lee in 2010, $2,500 to Mitt Romney in 2011, $500 to Jim Risch in 2014, and $500 to Marco Rubio in 2016.

[Political Moneyline Search for Ryan Nelson, CQ, accessed 08/02/17]