When President-elect Doanld Trump announced that Rep. Ryan Zinke, Republican from Montana, was his choice for secretary of interior, he bragged about Zinke's record as a Navy SEAL. Now it turns out that Zinke's record from the Navy SEALs could be his political undoing.
Three former unit leaders and a military consultant claim that Zinke committed travel fraud during his days as a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, according to The Intercept on Tuesday. They claim that, during his days as a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, Zinke traveled multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home in Whitefish and visit his mother, but submitted travel vouchers claiming that he was performing official duties. Even after he was caught and instructed to stop, Zinke allegedly continued to engage in this practice.
Although Zinke could have faced criminal charges as well as the end of his military career, senior officers are believed to have instead allowed him to complete his then-current assignment and then informed him that he would not be allowed to return to Navy SEAL Team 6 for future assignments. One of the SEAL Team 6 leaders told The Intercept that Zinke didn't face criminal charges because of how it would impact his family, although another source told the site that the officer who submitted evidence of Zinke's travel fraud was "incensed" about this decision. Three of the sources told The Intercept that Zinke avoided punishment because SEAL Team 6 prefers to avoid public scandal.
Zinke's military career was successful after that point, with Zinke retiring at the rank of Navy commander in 2008. He was elected to Congress in 2014.
Aside from the controversy over Zinke's alleged travel fraud, there are also concerns that Zinke would approve of the selling of federally owned natural lands. His voting record favoring special interests over protecting the environment earned him a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.