WASHINGTON — Three weeks before the National Park Service denied an activist group’s request to erect a giant statue of a nude woman on the National Mall, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke received an email from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
The Oct. 3 message forwarded an exchange between Gingrich, his wife, Callista, and Claire Christensen, the co-author of his 2016 book about the election of President Donald Trump. In it, the three seemed perturbed by the proposal to place the sculpture near the Washington Monument for three months.
“Have you heard about this?” Callista Gingrich, now the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, wrote to her husband. Newt Gingrich asked Christensen in an email later that day whether it was real.
“Unfortunately, yes it’s true,” Christensen responded. “Still needing approval and funding so nothing definitive yet.” She provided links to several news articles on the proposal.
Gingrich pinged Zinke a few hours later, passing along the email chain without comment. The subject: “Are you aware of this newt.”
The emails were released this week as part of a public information request.
Zinke forwarded Gingrich’s email to one of his staffers the following day, with the message: “Pls contact Mr Speaker and arrange for an office visit. I hour. The subj is monuments. I had ta ked (sic) to him at the WH. Late in the day would be preferred.”
It’s unclear if the two ever met — Gingrich is not listed on Zinke’s calendar between October and February — and if they did, whether the statue was part of that conversation. It’s possible that Gingrich’s email simply reminded Zinke to meet with Gingrich about national monuments; Gingrich later wrote a blog post on his website applauding Zinke and President Donald Trump for gutting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.
Three weeks after Gingrich’s email to Zinke, the National Park Service, which Zinke oversees, blocked a request from organizers of Catharsis on the Mall, a three-day art and music festival held in November, to install the 45-foot-tall statue. The group planned to keep the statue up for 91 days.
In a letter to the group on Oct. 25, the service’s acting regional director, Rick Obernesser, said the exhibit was “likely to significantly damage the underlying turf” and “have an adverse effect on the aesthetics, including the cultural identity, of the area.”
The sculpture, which debuted at the Burning Man festival in 2015, was slated to go up in front of the Washington Monument, facing the White House and the Capitol. The artist, Marco Cochrane, has said the piece is aimed at de-objectifying women and raising awareness about violence against women.
“What I see missing in the world is an appreciation and respect for feminine energy and power that results when women are free and safe,” Cochrane said in a statement about the piece. “It seems obvious to me that feminine energy is being suppressed and this must change.”
Contacted Wednesday, an Interior Department spokeswoman referred HuffPost to an official at the National Park Service, who forwarded along the agency’s October statement explaining its decision to grant a permit for the event but not allow the nude statue. The Interior spokeswoman did not answer questions about whether Zinke discussed the proposal with Gingrich or was involved in NPS’ final decision.
The Gingriches and Christensen did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
In an October release, organizers of Catharsis on the Mall blasted the park service for what it described as a “sudden last-minute retraction” and threatened legal action. In its letter to the group, the park service said its earlier approval of a height variance for the statue had been an “error.”
Event organizers ultimately improvised. In place of the 45-foot-tall statue, they put up a 26-foot-tall image of a nude woman.