Washington (CNN)A Chilean mining company whose owner has business ties to President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner was able to clear significant “roadblocks” in the early days of the Trump administration in order to reverse Obama-era restrictions that prevented it from mining near protected land in Minnesota, The New York Times reported Monday.
The Times, citing government emails and calendars it reviewed, said the Trump administration worked in early 2017 with the mining company, Antofagasta, in order to clear certain hurdles so the company could operate a copper mine near the Boundary Waters, “a vast landscape of federally protected lakes and forests along (Minnesota’s) border with Canada.” According to the paper, the newly granted access to the mines has drawn criticism “because of an unusual connection” between Andrónico Luksic, whose family owns the mining company, and Trump and Kushner, who serve as senior advisers to the President and rent their Washington, DC, home from Luksic for $15,000 a month.Rodrigo Terré, the chairman of Luksic’s family investment office, which handled the purchase of the home that was later rented to the couple, told the Times that both sides knew the identities of the other before the rental deal was completed. The paper said the couple “had decided to lease the home before knowing the landlord’s identity,” according to Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, though Mirijanian did not respond to the Times’ questions about whether or not they knew Luksic’s identity before signing the lease. The paper noted that Luksic said in a March 2017 tweet that he doesn’t know Trump “or any member of his family, and only met Mr. Trump briefly at a New England Patriots football game years ago.”Read MoreAccording to the Times, emails the paper obtained show that Antofagasta discussed a plan to mine in Minnesota with the White House’s top energy adviser, Michael Catanzaro. The paper said that before Ryan Zinke was appointed as Interior Department secretary, “the department moved to re-examine leases critical to the mine, eventually restoring those that the Obama administration had declined to renew.” Additionally, the Times said, “the Forest Service called off an environmental review that could have restricted mining, even though the agriculture secretary had told Congress that the review would proceed.” Catanzaro and top executives at Antofagasta met in May 2017 to discuss the lease issue, with representatives from the company saying they wanted the Trump administration to overturn Obama administration decisions in the matter, which they said caused “undue damage,” according to the Times. In December 2017, the paper said, the Interior Department “reversed course on denying the company’s leases” and Twin Metals Minnesota, Antofagasta’s subsidiary involved in the project, withdrew a lawsuit it filed against the government after the Obama administration blocked the project in 2016. The leases, which included some restrictions, were formally renewed last month, The Times said.The Times said several ethics experts, including Arthur Andrew Lopez, who worked as a government ethics official for 20 years, “would have cautioned (the couple) against renting the home, given the Luksic family’s business before the administration.” “There may be nothing wrong,” Lopez told the paper. “But it doesn’t look good.”According to the Times, Antofagasta has spent over $450 million on the Minnesota project, and it estimates that the project will generate hundreds of jobs.